Keep Isle of Palms free

Cars line the roadway on Palm Blvd on the Isle of Palms Wednesday November 12, 2014. Grace Beahm/Staff

The Isle of Palms now has state permission to charge for parking passes, but that doesn’t mean that it should.

The S.C. Department of Transportation has given the city the go-ahead to begin planning and implementing a system of paid parking passes for beachgoers and possibly even some residents.

Isle of Palms officials say the plan is needed to keep residents and visitors safe in high-traffic summer months. It can take several minutes for emergency personnel to reach certain parts of the island with bumper-to-bumper traffic in peak season, for example.

That concern is valid, but it remains unclear how simply charging people to park on the island would substantially reduce traffic. After all, people who pay the parking fee will still have to get to the island from Mount Pleasant or Sullivan’s Island, and then use just a couple of main roads to file down to the beach and find a parking spot on the road.

The only difference would be the cost of that spot.

Charging people to go to the Isle of Palms could shift some traffic to other nearby beaches like Sullivan’s Island or even Folly Beach. The latter already charges people to park in certain areas, although plenty of street parking is free.

But if Isle of Palms fees keep lots of visitors away, Sullivan’s Island and Folly Beach might feel the need to follow suit with more restrictive parking rules of their own. If that happens, then everyone goes back to square one.

And everybody has to pay more to go to the beach, which is essentially a public resource, according to South Carolina law.

If the Isle of Palms is genuinely concerned about public safety, there are better ways to address that issue. Emergency personnel and first responders could be stationed at different points along the beach on particularly busy days, including the Memorial Day and Fourth of July holidays. The city could even set up a free shuttle from Mount Pleasant during the summer, an idea that has been floated before.

Making people pay to park won’t keep them any safer, and it probably won’t make life much easier for Isle of Palms residents.

All it would do is restrict public access to a beautiful Lowcountry beach.