The City of Columbia is considering extending the hours during which citizens have to pay at metered parking spaces.
On Nov. 25, city parking services director Elle Matney made a presentation to Columbia City Council, during which she offered updates on various parking initiatives and made some proposals for changes to the Columbia’s parking system.
Perhaps the most notable proposal was to change the hours during which drivers would be required to feed parking meters around the city. Currently, parking meters throughout most of the city are enforced from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. The meters in the Five Points nightlife and entertainment district are currently enforced from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
The new proposal would extend enforcement at on-street meters to 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday throughout Columbia, including Five Points.
The possible change would move Columbia closer to other cities of similar size in terms of the hours of enforcement at meters. Savannah monitors meters from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, Knoxville enforces them in large swaths of the city from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and Charleston has enforcement from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Mayor Steve Benjamin asked Matney for confirmation that city staff's recommendation would be for meters citywide. When Matney replied that it was, the third-term mayor seemed to respond with a healthy dose of surprise.
“Really?” Benjamin wondered. The mayor then asked Matney to explain the thought behind possibly enforcing meters from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
The parking director said moving cars into and out of spaces more frequently would be a benefit to extending the hours.
“It actually turns those spaces in the weekend and evening hours, where we see the Hub students [on Main Street] parking [at meters], where we see the hotel guests,” Matney says. “And many staff members throughout our businesses are parking in those spaces. We physically see them.
“So let’s say [an employee at a nearby business] pulls up to a meter and [they] can feed it at 5 o’clock for an hour, because [they] are working the night shift. They know that we are not going to enforce after 6, so that vehicle is there for the remainder of the evening. So, we receive the complaints from the local businesses, that no one has a place to park, there’s no parking on Main Street. [They say,] ‘No one can run into my business or pick up food at my restaurant.’”
City Council has not announced when the longer enforcement hours at parking meters could begin, but when it does happen it appears Five Points will be the first area where the new hours are enacted.
“We will probably start it [in Five Points] at first,” at-large Councilman Howard Duvall tells Free Times. “But, this is something that might be helpful system-wide. … We think that, if it starts in Five Points, it will soon be system-wide.”
Benjamin said at the Nov. 25 meeting he’d entertain the idea of enforcing parking meters from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. across the city, but wants to see how it might work out in Five Points first.
“I’m willing to do the whole city, but let’s walk, then run, maybe with the clear intentions of, if it works well, we’ll go everywhere,” the mayor said. “That’s a huge psychological change and paradigm shift in the way in which we park.”