A blog for better streets and public spaces in Portland, Maine.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

City Councilor Donoghue: "It's Too Hard to Stop Subsidizing City Hall Parking"

Last week, City Hall launched its new TDM2Go.com website, designed to help employers in Portland reduce their parking and payroll costs by getting more employees to work without cars.

It's a great effort, but there's some irony in it, as the Forecaster notes in its news report on the event: "Do as Portland City Hall says, not as it does."

You see, as much City Hall says it wants to encourage more downtown workers to walk, bike, or use transit, it still pays for free parking for every City Hall employee in the publicly-owned Chestnut Street parking garage. Given the "market" rate (I use that term loosely , as the "market" is itself tremendously distorted by other city policies) that's a subsidy of roughly $1,000 per employee every year.

This is, of course, a silly waste of public funds. But it's not as silly as City Councilor Kevin Donoghue's excuse for it: "Staff resources have not been allocated to implement this city policy," said Donoghue, who leads the City Council's Transportation Committee.

You might wonder, as I did, what kind of "staff resources" it takes to kill an ill-conceived subsidy. Wouldn't asking city employees to take personal responsibility for their own motor vehicles during the workday be a lot easier than asking the city bureaucracy to take care of them instead? Isn't this something that hundreds of downtown employees already do without any "staff resources"? Didn't we just go through a labor-intensive budget-cutting process, and wouldn't saving thousands of dollars in parking expenses make things considerably easier the next time around? For that matter, if "staff resources" are really a problem, wouldn't the money that City Hall saves from eliminating its parking subsidies be enough to hire a new full-time city employee?

Forget lightbulbs - how many City Councilors does it take to stop micromanaging the vehicular storage of city employees' personal automobiles?

To be fair to Kevin, whose heart is in the right place, this was a stupid quote made in the flush of embarrassment at being called out for hypocrisy by a news reporter. His natural first impulse was to make lame excuses.

If he'd like to redeem himself, his second impulse should be to make some changes.

Real leaders take charge and get things done without waiting for "staff resources" to do it for them. If real leadership exists on our current City Council, then we shouldn't have to wait until November for City Hall's parking subsidies to die.

The City Council could easily make the changes necessary by directing the city's parking manager to charge market rates for all users - whether or not they work for the city - at the city's publicly-owned garages.

This should not be a hard thing to do. I'd venture to say it might even be easier than changing a lightbulb.

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