The battle over parking meter rates is back, thanks to a proposal inserted into the city's budget that would raise rates outside of Manhattan from $.75 to $1 per hour.
The hike is a slap in the face for the City Council, which stamped out the plan back in January - only to see it reappear six months later, unchanged. Why is the Bloomberg Administration still trying to shove it through, instead of listening to the clear message sent by lawmakers last winter?
The simplest answer is money.
The increase, which includes a $.50 hike on meters in Manhattan below 86th Street, would bring in millions of dollars next year, an easy windfall for the Department of Transportation.
Going after low-hanging fruit, however, is no way to balance the budget.
It provides increased revenue for a city scrambling to find money to avoid teacher layoffs and FDNY closings. But it would also anger middle- and working-class families at a time when residents - especially in the outer boroughs - are feeling more and more marginalized by a mayor who has faltered continuously in his third term in office.
At this late stage in the game, Michael Bloomberg would be better served by catering to the concerns of the millions of people living outside of Manhattan. That would seem to be a prudent thing to do, if he is to shore up his legacy over the next two years.
Doing things like raising parking meter rates won't get the job done.
In fact, as critics suggest, it might even have the unintended consequence of driving shoppers away from popular shopping districts that are served by on-street parking. Because while a quarter raise doesn't seem like too much, it's the principal behind the hike that's at stake.
The increase would be the second in two years, following a $.25 hike in 2009 that broke a 17-year freeze on meter rates. If this one goes through, drivers have every reason to assume that more will follow. Once a pattern like this one is set, it can become hard to break.
There must be other ways for the Department of Transportation to raise revenue.
For example, why not increase the fines for drivers who run through red lights?
This would compliment a separate proposal plan to install more red light enforcement cameras around the city. Studies have shown the cameras, which photograph drivers speeding through red lights, who are then fined for the infraction, push people to drive more carefully, resulting in fewer accidents.
That's a worthy cause. Raising meters is not. Hopefully, the city can find a way to scrap the proposal before the budget is finalized.