Leaders of bankrupt Detroit haven’t found many ways to fill its empty coffers, but consultants hired to restructure the local government have identified at least one option that could raise an additional $6 million annually for the city: increasing its parking fines.
Currently, drivers can be cited parking tickets of $20, $30, or $100, with the lowest amount putting Detroit among cities with the cheapest fines in the country, according to a survey conducted by SFpark.org. In fact, it costs the city $2 more to issue and process its $30 tickets.
It doesn’t help that, at any given time, roughly half of Detroit’s parking meters are broken, with the city unaware of how much it’s currently owed in unpaid tickets. Gary Brown, Detroit’s chief operating officer, said the city knows that 70 percent of fines are issued to non-Detroit residents, however.
But increasing fines, which the city hasn’t done since 2001, would give Detroit the funds to repair or update its 3,404 meters. Specifically, the recommendations call for revising the city’s current fee structure to a two-tiered system that would price tickets at $45 and $150. A one-time amnesty program is likely to be in place at the time of the increase, said Brown.
The suggestions arrive just ahead of an analysis of Detroit’s parking assets awaited by state-appointed emergency manager Kevyn Orr, who is also considering making the city’s parking department a stand-alone agency.
But the improvements being considered for Detroit’s parking system will only go so far in fixing the city’s larger parking issue, argue critics, which is a problem of supply and demand. As in many urban areas during the second half of the 20th century, malls began opening in the suburbs, drawing customers away from vibrant shopping areas in cities’ downtowns. Like many of those cities, Detroit thought that if it created more parking in its downtown, it would be able to compete more aggressively against suburban malls, which offered ample parking. This thinking gave rise to the demolition of numerous buildings, and today almost 40 percent of Detroit’s downtown features some kind of parking.
That situation poses a problem for revitalization efforts, critics continue. Who wants to visit downtown Detroit when much of what’s available there is parking? Public perceptions around safety also play a role. In areas without busy storefronts, crowded cafes, or frequent public transit, the vacant lots and dimly lit garages that instead dominate can be a turnoff to visitors.
Still, Detroit has to start somewhere, and at-large city councilor Saunteel Jenkins says she supports the idea of higher parking fines, “especially since it’s costing the city more to write and process tickets than the actual parking fines themselves,” she told The Detroit News.