Letter: Downtown parking woes

Write to Mountain Xpress
Graphic by Lori Deaton

Some may remember the fiasco a few years back wherein [a local towing company] was caught parking towed cars illegally, effectively doubling the fees tourists had to pay for their car’s return. It was the crescendo to a long bout with predatory towing here in lovely Asheville, N.C. These problems were well behind us — or so we thought.

Recently, I popped in to Mamacitas (my favorite, before this) for a burrito, parking in the lot where I had parked hundreds of times before. I ran inside, purchased food, came back out (5-10 minutes later) to find a “parking citation” under my wiper for nearly $20 (double the fees charged by the city).

Being temporarily short of funds, I was unable to afford the (rather steep) citation fee immediately. A week later I received a letter from McLaurin Parking (www.mclaurinparking.com) informing me that my citation had just been raised to $30, which I still could not afford at the time. By the time I did have enough money to pay the fines, the “citation” fee had tripled to $60. Had I taken much longer (I was informed) the fee would increase to $100.

To me, this is ludicrous. It seems that we have traded predatory towing for predatory parking enforcement services. If I cannot park in the same parking lot I have parked in for years to visit one of my favorite eateries without incurring a ticket that exceeds my meal cost, why would I continue to visit that business? … Why should any downtown business not extend the same courtesy to their customers? The answer wasn’t as obvious as I thought.

I later found out that most of these lots either charge cash (some credit/debit at a kiosk) or they instruct you to use their app. Once you input your space and zone number, the app cheerfully informs you that you are about to pay for 12-24 hours of parking.

“But I don’t want to pay $5-10 to park for just a few minutes. I am not going to be here for 12 hours!” you say angrily.

“Tough luck, park somewhere else,” the (personification of the) app responds (in your head).

It seems that these people (supposedly BBB-certified) are doing the same thing the towing companies were years ago: targeting tourists with exorbitant fees. Even if I were a tourist with a huge bankroll to spend on “art,” artisanal (whatever), craft beer, and shoes from Tops, it would still gall me to be forced to pay for 12 hours of parking were I only planning on being there for a few minutes. It seems to not matter one bit to these services. I have actually seen an “attendant” for one of these lots being questioned about this very matter, to which they responded, “I just empty the money” before proceeding to ignore the kindly old couple inquiring.

Is this OK with everyone? Should this company charge astronomical fees (nearly double, on all fronts) for a service the city makes a meager income from? … I, for one, think it is in very poor taste, especially when none of this money stays in our community!

P.S.: … Imagine what Asheville would look like if not for the several thousand parking spaces in these lots siphoning money from our community. This land will never be developed until the amount of money they take in is greatly exceeded by the value of the property. Even then, the owners will likely milk that transaction for all it’s worth, reducing the quality of the development that will eventually utilize that empty lot they have squeezed all those tiny spaces into. It saddens me for our community, as well as the businesses I will no longer honor with my patronage since I refuse to pay more to park than to purchase their fine wares.

Sincerely,

— Durham Bell
Asheville

Editor’s note: When contacted by Xpress, Bill McLaurin of McLaurin Parking Co. responded: “… All of our Asheville locations have pay stations that require payment at arrival, similar to a parking meter on the curb. We also offer payment by phone at all locations. More than 95 percent of our customers pay for parking when they arrive, as directed by the signs at the entrance. Our enforcement agents check the lots several times each day and issue penalty tickets to unpaid vehicles.

The penalty is $18 and can be paid online within the next seven days.  Also online, the customer can appeal the ticket if they it believe it was issued in error or if there are special circumstances that should be considered. Appeals are reviewed and answered within 48 hours by our staff. If the ticket is not appealed and remains unpaid after seven days, the penalty increases to $30. Thirty days after issue, the ticket increases to $60. This information is printed on the ticket that is placed on the windshield, and the customer receives a reminder letter by mail each time the penalty increases.

The customer that was mentioned in your message was not charged ‘almost $20 for 10 minutes of parking.’  The ticket is a penalty for failure to pay for parking. We do not understand why the customer calls our action ‘predatory,’ as the signs at the entrance state exactly what can happen when someone parks without paying. Apparently, this customer chose to park without paying.

We must take action when people ignore the signs. A penalty of $18 is much better (for the offending customer) than immobilization (booting) or towing. We would be happy to look at this particular penalty ticket, but we did not receive any information regarding the ticket number or the license number of the ticketed vehicle …”

Meanwhile, Mamacitas’ owner John Atwater  responded: “It’s always a bummer to get a parking ticket — sorry to hear that happened. We would gladly switch the lot back to free parking, but it’s not our lot; the property owners made the decision to charge for parking a year back, and we simply have no control over the issue. The Aloft parking deck is half a block from us and free for the first hour as another parking alternative? Hope we see you soon and wish you a beautiful day.”

 

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3 thoughts on “Letter: Downtown parking woes

  1. luther blissett

    This is the 67 Biltmore / Asheville Wine Market lot, right? The one with big ugly signs saying who can park for free and who must pay? Um, hard to conjure up outrage or sympathy here. As Mr Atwater said, the Biltmore / Aloft deck is 50 yards away from Mamacita’s, and as long as it’s not in evening “SPECIAL EVENT $$$$” mode, it’s free for the first hour.

    There’s a broader question about the dead acreage of private surface lots downtown, but the best way to make those lots uneconomical is… not to park in them. Once the AC Hotel and county HHS decks are in service, we’re likely to see some property owners reassess the passive income generating properties of parking. For now, gather the strength to walk an extra couple of minutes.

  2. Don

    The old Asheville is gone. The new Asheville…. not my idea of cool. Best to avoid downtown…. it’s not for the locals anyhoo.

  3. Phil Williams

    I have a stall in the Lexington Park Antiques Mall and we have a couple of rented monthly spaces in one of the outside city lots on Rankin Ave….what I love is when people park in our spaces although they are not assigned there (you are supposed to put your parking permit on your dashboard). They only penalty they get is a $10 ticket – 3 bucks more than the “special event” pricing in the Rankin Garage – reckon it is worth it to them, ’cause it happens all the time.

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