A blog dealing with Sarasota County and the City of Sarasota.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

If I were a Commissioner #1: Beach Parking

This morning the County Commission heard a presentation on the possibility of going to a system of paid parking at our beaches, something many neighboring counties (but not Manatee) apparently do. Some Commissioners are committed to free parking, while others want to explore the idea of having beach users help pay for beach management. 

From my perspective, they seemed to get bogged down in who would get free or reduced parking and who would pay full freight. This led to a discussion of how to determine who would get the preferred rate -- would they have to live here, or own property here or pay taxes here, or what? And how would they establish their status?  I pictured a rather bureaucratic system of checking everyone's credentials -- a process that seems awfully cumbersome and top down to me.

Here's what I would propose (if a majority wanted to try this at all): Create a tiered system of parking (starting experimentally at Siesta Beach) that would allow beach users, and not the county, to determine how much they wanted to pay. This wouldn't be an honor system with a cup, but (possibly) three zones of parking, each with different rates.

The spaces closest to the road would be free - always. A middle section would have modest parking fees and the spaces closest to the beach would be "premium" spots that might go for several bucks an hour. Beachgoers would sort themselves out according to their willingness to trade walking for paying. If people had a lot of gear or were willing to pay for convenience, they could go for the premium spaces. If people needed free parking they could go off-peak (avoid the busiest times) or wait until someone left in the no-pay section. And most people would be charged a modest amount.

At first this would be a big experiment and would probably take some fine tuning to adjust the relative size of each rate category, but once calibrated it could generate as much revenue as a one-rate-fits-all blanket fee or a two tiered (resident/non-resident) system that involved elaborate means of determining who qualified for the best rate. 

Is this a great idea? I'm not sure. It may have some hidden flaws. But it is a different idea, one that gives people choices rather than making the county choose amongst us and it is an idea none of the current commissioners brought up this morning. 

And that's one reason I think I would strengthen the County Commission team -- introducing new ideas. If my ideas have merit then others will pick up on them and move forward, if not the other four will have no trouble telling me thanks, but no thanks. 


I haven't changed a word of the blog above from January. This week (in May) the Board of County Commissioners voted to not move forward with beach parking fees at this time. That's fine with me. My blog was attempting to suggest an alternative HOW to approach beach parking fees, not WHETHER to. I hope it was clear from the third paragraph "(if a majority wanted to try this at all)" that I was looking for some consensus position; and that was if two commissioners were insistent about maintaining free parking that there might be a way to do that and collect fees. 

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