Historic City News was on Cathedral Place near Cordova Street this morning when we discovered a Tavares family pushing buttons and scratching their heads; trying to decipher the meter pay station in front of the Bank of America building.
The Bryan family, who agreed to be interviewed, told us that they traveled to St. Augustine for the day from Tavares (north of Orlando) and that they wanted to park and walk to one of the downtown restaurants for lunch.
Bryan placed a dollar into the pay station and tried to figure out what to do next. “I thought I could get a couple of hours”, Bryan said. Instead, when he pushed the button, the pay station dispensed a receipt good only for forty minutes.
“I don’t think we can eat lunch in forty minutes”, said Bryan.
For $1.50, the pay station would have dispensed a receipt good for one hour — the maximum purchase allowed is two hours.
Unfortunately, the Bryan’s discovered that it would do them no good to buy an additional hour since the time value of the receipt begins to expire immediately upon being purchased.
The look on the Bryan’s face was not uncommon, in fact, the couple that followed the Bryan’s left the pay station with the same look of bewilderment when they ended up with a pass good only for 20 minutes.
“The result is”, said Robert Lichter who owns two local retail stores around the corner on St. George Street, “downtown shoppers end up frustrated and rushed — afraid to browse and shop downtown for fear they are going to get a ticket”.
Lichter has been an outspoken opponent of the “new” downtown parking system since it was first installed over a year ago. “Not a day goes by that I don’t hear a complaint from a tourist or a customer in my stores about the pay stations”.
Lichter is concerned that we are putting a “bad taste” in the mouths of our visitors and that we are discouraging them from shopping downtown. Lichter says that his business with local customers has continued to decline because of what he sees as the difficulty of use of the pay station system.
“Just make it simple” said Lichter. “Most people know what to expect with a standard parking meter and most people expect to pay for parking downtown”, Lichter continued. “Simplify the system so that people aren’t aggravated as soon as they arrive downtown.”
At last night’s city commission meeting, Commissioner Don Crichlow brought up Lichter’s name while making an un-official, tongue-in-cheek presentation to Mayor Joe Boles. Lichter gave Crichlow a small statue of an old fashioned parking meter with instructions to pass it on to the Mayor.
Mayor Boles passed the parking meter around the table to the other commissioners and laughed about the rate shown on the model — only 5 cents. Lichter told Historic City News that he got the meter from an attorney who owns a second home in St. Augustine and who is chronically frustrated with the electronic pay stations every time he tries to park downtown.
Commissioner Leanna Freeman called City Comptroller Mark Litzinger who heads the Finance, Budget & Management Department to the commission table during the meeting and passed the meter on to him. Crichlow reminded everyone that he was certain that the parking meter wasn’t meant to be an “award” — but rather was an icon for Lichter’s dissatisfaction with the current parking system.
Photo credit: Historic City News photographer Kerry McGuire