Sunday, April 20, 2008

City drivers: Chumps and cash cows

Ken Garcia writes about how city officials continue to see car owners as nothing but cash cows and how city drivers suffer silently under the city's aggressively anti-car policies:

For the only people more upset about a ridiculous proposal to once again raise parking fines and meter rates than city residents are those people once referred to as meter maids---for the simple reason that they fear they’re going to get punched while placing those expensive tickets on our windshields...How is it that each time San Francisco needs money because of its free-spending officials it targets car owners? But everything is going to go up---fees for residential parking permits, Fast Passes, curb painting, you name it. I call it taxation without representation. You call it whatever you like, but call often---it’s a plan that should drive you mad.

City drivers may be mad, but they have few avenues to express their anger. Yes, there's the occasional driver who attacks a meter maid after getting a parking ticket, but the overall acquiescence---especially the political acceptance---of this kind of treatment is still a little mysterious. True, the city's drivers occasionally lash out at the ballot box to defend their interests: In 1998 the city's voters insisted on allowing the garage to be built under the Concourse in Golden Gate Park; in 2000 they voted against closing part of Golden Gate Park to autos on Saturdays, but the city went ahead and did it anyhow; and city voters resoundingly rejected a hike in city parking fees a few years ago.

Nevertheless, let's count the ways---and the dollars---that the city continues to use/abuse its drivers as cash cows. According to MTA's Transportation Fact Sheet of August, 2007, the city collected $29,687,616 from its parking meters in fiscal year 2005-2006. In the same year, it collected $33,350,354 from the operation of its 20 garages and parking lots. In FY 2004-2005, the city collected $5,492,633 from its Residential Permit Parking Program, wherein city residents pay the city for the privilege of parking on the street near their homes. But the big money-maker for the city is evidently parking tickets, since it collected $88,174,228 this way in FY 2005-2006.

Add it all up, and it comes to $156,704,831 extracted from drivers in the city in a single year.

Why do city drivers put up with it? Probably because they seldom have the opportunity to express their displeasure politically. Last year was a good opportunity to do so with Prop. A and Prop. H, but the shameless demonizing of Don Fisher and the effective wagon-circling by the city's elite stampeded voters for Prop. A and against Fisher's sensible parking proposition.

Regular readers of this blog won't be surprised to see a link between the bicycle fantasy and the city's anti-car policies. Following the lead of the politically influential SF Bicycle Coalition, city policymakers consistently pass measures that make it as expensive and difficult as possible to drive a car---or a bus or a taxi---in San Francisco. Hence, our city government is not just pro-bike, even though less than 2% of city residents commute by bike. It is also anti-car, even though there are 465,905 motor vehicles registered in SF.

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