Minimum wage workers shouldn’t be asked to trade more than two hours worth of pay to park in a parking garage in downtown Charleston while they work. Unfortunately, that’s exactly the situation in which many of the peninsula’s hospitality and restaurant workers find themselves.
To try and resolve the problem, city of Charleston officials ran a pilot program offering $5 parking for restaurant employees in a handful of garages downtown. The test run ends in September, but the city’s lower-wage workers won’t be left out to dry.
The city plans to extend $7 parking in two garages for anyone parking after 3 p.m. and will offer $5 parking in four garages after 5 p.m. until a park-and-ride lot on the Upper Peninsula opens later this year.
That park-and-ride lot is an ideal longer-term solution, offering parking for as many as 300 people. By comparison, an average of 137 restaurant workers took advantage of the city’s pilot parking program every day.
And restaurant workers obviously aren’t the only employees who might struggle to afford parking downtown. Retail and hospitality workers often earn lower wages too, for example. Indeed, a lot of higher paid employees would balk at shelling out $15 every day to park in a garage.
The city also expects to take a more complete inventory of its available parking facilities and look at how to improve options for everyone as part of a broad parking study planned for later this year. It’s certainly something worth looking into.
Businesses have a role to play too. Employees could benefit from incentives to promote walking, biking or riding the bus, for example. And higher wages or parking subsidies might be options as well.
In fact, as part of a recent rule change, new hotels will be required to have a plan in place for employee parking or provide for transportation alternatives.
But affordable parking is ultimately about much more than the right number of spaces at the right price. It’s about housing and transportation too. It’s about livability.
After all, if minimum and low-wage workers can get around the city without a personal vehicle or can afford to live on the peninsula, they might not need parking at all.
And again, city officials are aware of the problems. Charleston City Council is looking at including a $20 million bond referendum to build affordable housing on the ballot this November. Plans are moving forward to build affordable residences in the footprint of the old Cooper River Bridge downtown.
CARTA officials are working to improve the existing bus system’s efficiency and effectiveness. A countywide half-cent sales tax approved by voters last year will provide even more funds for replacing aging buses and other needs. The region is expected to get its first true mass transit system — a bus rapid transit line connecting Summerville and downtown Charleston — within the next decade.
Better bike and pedestrian infrastructure are important too, including a desperately needed bike lane on the T. Allen Legare Bridge across the Ashley River. There’s currently no way for West Ashley or James Island residents to safely get downtown on a bike.
Fixing longstanding housing and transportation issues would reduce the need for more and cheaper parking. Those fixes will take time, however.
In the meantime, the city is right to proactively address parking for low-wage workers on the peninsula by extending cheap parking programs and working toward a longer-term park-and-ride solution. Workers currently struggling to find affordable parking should also speak up and let their employers and city officials know what kind of solutions they would like to see.
The peninsula ought to be a place where all kinds of people can live and work — and park — no matter their salaries.