Desperate City May Cash In on Parking Meters

1938 nyc parking meter Desperate City May Cash In on Parking MetersFirst they came for the parks, then the parking meters.

The city is considering selling off its 54,236 parking meters, scattered across the five boroughs, according to a report in the Post, with an anticipated windfall of $5 billion. Officials tell the tab that nothing is imminent, and the plan runs against the mayor’s sworn mission of not drawing future administrations into debt, but should the Bloomberg balance sheets continue to blanch, the deal may look increasingly tempting.

The city remains reluctant because any sale would quash $138.9 million in annual revenues as well as killing—or privatizing—125 meter readers’ jobs. If well-timed, the sale could be a boon to a sagging budget, but there is also the specter of slaughtering the cow for steaks when what is really needed is a daily glass of milk. In the case of Chicago, which brokered a similar $1.15 billion deal in 2008 for its 36,000 meters, the city is now without the reliable revenue for the next seven decades. There is also the possibility that rates could spike as soon as they’re out of city hands.

This is only the most recent instance of the city turning to the private sector for help, as just the other week an RFP was released for the creation of a 1.15-acre “park” in downtown Brooklyn known as Willoughby Square. The new open space is being built atop a new parking lot–think of it as a verdent roof–and will be developed and run privately, a growing trend for city parks and other resources.

How about, instead of turning the meters over to someone else, the city just jacks up the rates? It’s bound to happen if the meters are sold off anyway, but instead of lining a private company’s pockets, we could fill the city’s coffers. Plus, it doubles as a form of congestion pricing. When you have to start feeding Abe Lincoln or Alex Hamilton into the meter, you will probably think twice about taking the subway next time.

mchaban [at] observer.com / @mc_nyo