It’s frustrating to have to pay an extra dollar at downtown Charleston parking meters, but parking isn’t likely to suddenly become the most expensive part of a night out on the town, and it already costs $2 an hour to park in city garages.
An extra dollar an hour is a pretty huge deal, however, for low-wage workers at downtown restaurants, hotels and shops who already struggle to find affordable parking on the peninsula. There are about 7,700 hospitality employees on the peninsula, and 80 percent of them drive to work. The maximum daily rate at a city garage costs as much as two hours of work at minimum wage.
It’s also worth noting that the $2 an hour meter rate would put Charleston alongside Atlanta for the most expensive on-street parking in the Southeast.
And on top of that, meters are soon going to be monitored until 10 p.m. rather than 6 p.m. — a 30 percent increase in the amount of time people will be expected to pay for.
To soften the blow, the city, along with the Convention and Visitors Bureau and CARTA, plans to test out a park and ride option that will offer a $5 flat rate and shuttle service from a lot on Morrison Drive. City officials have promised they won’t raise parking rates until the park and ride is in place.
Park and ride is a smart alternative, but with about 170 spaces available initially, not nearly enough. That’s sufficient parking for about 2 percent of the peninsula’s hospitality employees. Still, park and ride would be well worth implementing on a much broader scale, including with shuttles from off the peninsula.
Of course, with a shuttle running every 15 minutes until late at night and a cheap flat rate, the cost of park and ride might well eat up much of what the city stands to take in from the higher meter rates in the first place. Charleston made about $1.3 million off of parking meters last year, and hopes the new revenue will forestall a tax hike.
Too bad there aren’t easier, safer ways to get around the Charleston area without a car. Unfortunately, there aren’t. And needed improvements — many of which are in the works — are mostly still a long way off.
Bus rapid transit connecting Summerville and downtown Charleston isn’t likely to start operating until 2025 at the earliest, for example.
A planned bicycle and pedestrian bridge across the Ashley River is still only theoretical at this point, and a straightforward plan to convert a car lane on the Ashley River Bridge fell through last year after a majority of Charleston County Council decided to oppose it.
CARTA is constantly collecting data to improve its bus network — and real-time bus tracking implemented last year is a big step forward for riders — but sprawling, suburban development patterns make it impractical for a lot of area residents to take the bus.
Far too many streets in the region lack such basic and necessary safety features as crosswalks, sidewalks and bike lanes.
And it is virtually impossible to find housing on the Charleston peninsula that would be affordable to the average hospitality employee — and a lot of other workers too, for that matter.
Those are all major problems and most of them will require regional cooperation. That must be the long-term priority.
In the meantime, a lot of people have to drive to work on the peninsula, and they shouldn’t have to spend a couple of hours working every day just to pay for parking.