Parking Meters (copy)

The city of Charleston is replacing coin-operated meters with digital meters that accept credit cards. File/Brad Nettles/Staff

This is just how ridiculous it has become to park in downtown Charleston:

The city is currently trying to find 30 parking spaces for a business that wants to set up shop downtown. You know, economic development. The company already has office space, but nowhere for its employees to drop their cars during the day.

City officials have been trying to solve this little problem for about a month.

A month.

Not even the city of Charleston — which owns entire garages, mind you — can find a parking place. The surface lots are full and street parking is about as rare as someone without an opinion about Donald Trump. The waiting list for reserved spots in most peninsula garages is 3 to 4 years long.

Which is crazy.

A lot of folks in Charleston adopted a very Yogi Berra-like policy on downtown years ago. Nobody goes there anymore; it’s too crowded. Others have no choice, however, and for them this has become a nightmare.

That’s why the city is commissioning a parking study, even though a lot of people already know what it’s going to say. The short answer is there’s mass transit in our future.

Unfortunately, Southerners aren’t crazy about public transportation.

But we’re going to have to get used to it.

No free parking

The city plans to host some public meetings during this parking study.

And you can bet some downtowners will tell them exactly where to put all these cars, even if it is physically impossible.

See, downtown neighborhoods have been overrun in recent years. People dump their cars on residential streets and occasionally even in private driveways. People with jobs that don't include parking sometimes leave their cars at The Battery — the only truly free spaces downtown.

City workers have found that some cars down there don't move for a week at a time. Those are college kids, probably.

There are plenty of companies that don’t provide parking downtown, but this problem mostly hits people in the hospitality industry or food and beverage workers. Many of them can't afford the rates in garages.

The lucky ones find a meter when second shift starts around 4, pay for two hours and leave their cars there until 2 a.m. Because meter spaces are free after 6 p.m. — for now. That is a daily gamble, however, and there aren’t enough spaces for everyone.

The city, CARTA, and the Convention and Visitors Bureau are looking at a park and ride system. They are still working on the details, but generally the idea is to let these folks park somewhere up Morrison Drive and take a shuttle downtown.

If the shuttle is fast, cheap and dependable, it could work.

And if it’s successful you can plan on seeing a lot more of it in the not-too-distant future.

Get on the bus, Gus

The city is looking for some badly needed balance here.

Talk to King Street merchants and they’ll say the city needs more parking garages. Perhaps that's true, even though many people hate garages. Maybe it’s all that driving in circles.

Which, come to think of it, is exactly like looking for on-street parking.

The city probably will extend the hours on parking meters to drive more people to the garages, most of which empty out after 5 p.m. We aren’t looking at 24-hour meters yet, but that 6 p.m. cutoff is likely history.

Of course, that won't solve everything. There are simply too many cars, from tourists and workers, pouring onto the peninsula every day. Something's gotta give.

Josh Martin, a senior adviser to Mayor John Tecklenburg, says public transit is absolutely on the table. It has to be predictable and reliable, he says, like CARTA’s DASH. That’s a good example, provided we can get enough cars off the streets for them to run on time.

The real hurdle here will be acceptance. Southerners have never really cottoned to public transportation. The tourists will be easier to convince; the real key is convincing workers. And some of them have already figured out there’s no other way.

MUSC has been running a shuttle service for years. The VA hospital has set up a park and ride just across the bridge in West Ashley because its own lot isn’t much bigger than Burger King’s.

That is probably the future for many downtown workers, like it or not.

Otherwise, people will be wistfully longing for the days when they could park within a mile of the College of Charleston for just $200 a month.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com.