Vacca, City Council Agree to Deeper Budget Cuts to Keep Parking Cheap

Speaker Christine Quinn’s office just announced that the City Council has reached a budget deal with the Bloomberg administration, restoring some services slated for cuts and targeting others instead. There’s also one case where the council successfully fought to prevent the city from raising revenue to fund more services. A proposal to increase parking meter rates by 25 cents per hour in Manhattan above 86th Street and in the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island got negotiated out of the budget deal, thanks in no small part to vigorous opposition from Transportation Committee Chair James Vacca.

Transportation Committee Chair James Vacca at a rally against the 25-cent meter rate bump in December. Photo:
Transportation Committee Chair James Vacca at a rally against the 25-cent meter rate bump in December. Photo: YourNabe/Council Member Vacca's office

Meter rates would have gone up from 75 cents per hour to one dollar per hour. Now those rates won’t go up until July 1 at the earliest, pending another round of budget negotiations before the next fiscal year. Deferring the parking rate increase means the city has about $2.5 million less to spend in the current budget. That’s $2.5 million that won’t go toward libraries, aid to the homeless, or other services. (Parking in Manhattan south of 86th Street wasn’t affected by the deal — the price there will rise from $2.50 to $3.00 per hour.)

Spearheading the fight against the 25-cent bump was Vacca. The Eastern Bronx rep is preparing a bill, along with Brooklyn’s Diana Reyna, that would limit the city’s ability to set parking meter rates in the future, capping rate increases to 25 percent over any five-year period unless the City Council grants an exemption. Vacca’s office told Streetsblog that the bill is in the midst of getting drafted and that the council member still intends to introduce it.

While Vacca has had some good things to say about transit funding and calming traffic, his comments on parking policy (not to mention his introduction to last month’s bike policy hearing) have betrayed a troubling lack of familiarity with basic transportation policy concepts. The leader of the transportation committee in America’s largest and most walkable city shouldn’t be perpetuating the myth that cheap parking is good for business, good for New York, or even good for motorists.

Vacca has to do better than what he told the Community Newspaper Group about the 25-cent parking rate increase:

“The whole borough of Queens will see a conversion,” said Vacca, chairman of the Council Committee on Transportation. “It’s ‘nickel-and-quartering’ the average person.”

The rate hikes will discourage shoppers who normally patronize small businesses in commercial hubs around the borough, he said.

“I feel it’s a definite negative for small business,” Vacca said. “It’s going to cost people more to shop.”

Vacca added that when the increase is combined with overzealous metermaids, it will further discourage shoppers from parking on the street.

“It will increase the ‘I got ya’ aspect of this,” he said.

The whole borough of Queens was also the subject of a huge multi-part series in the Daily News last year about the parking crunch on commercial streets, where curbs are crammed full of parked cars. Motorists aren’t going to see much relief from all the time (and gas money) they spend cruising for spots as long as meter rates remain at their current prices.

Raising overall meter rates is a blunt instrument compared to targeted peak-hour rate increases, but the fact is that NYC’s parking rates sat stagnant for 17 years until a 25-cent bump in 2009, which basically just let meter rates catch up with inflation. Cheap on-street parking increases traffic, prevents customers from finding spaces, and can drive away business by making the search for an open spot frustrating. Then there are the millions of car-free New Yorkers who would have an easier, safer, and more pleasant shopping experience if traffic were reduced by setting the right price on parking on commercial streets.

New York City can’t afford to have a Transportation Committee chair who’s poorly versed in parking policy and advocates for the dysfunctional status quo. Down in Washington D.C., Tommy Wells was just appointed to chair the City Council’s transportation committee. Wells has been a consistent champion of smart, 21st Century transportation reforms, including performance parking policies that align meter prices with demand. Washington, by the way, has a higher rate of car ownership than Vacca’s East Bronx district [PDF].

  • JK

    Mr. Vacca has curbside parking completely backwards, and is screwing the motorists he claims to help. His ignorance will result in more expensive parking tickets, which will cost motorists far more than an extra quarter an hour. Parking violations increase when there are fewer available parking spots. There are fewer available spots when meter rates are set too low to encourage turn-over. This is not rocket science. When motorists have nowhere to park, some will park illegally. There are mounds and mounds of studies which show the relationship between meter rates and parking availability. The higher the price, the more spots are available, and the shorter motorists stay. Recently and locally, NYC DOT has documented this with ParkSmart program. Transportation Alternatives did a great job documenting the relationship between parking violations and parking availability in their Park Slope parking study, “No Vacancy.”

  • Errrr

    This is basically a street privatization plan right? If the city can’t change the rate, just sell the stalls to someone who can?

  • 75 cents per hour?!?!

    That’s cheaper than just about every downtown here in the wilds of Central New Jersey!

  • JK

    Commenter #2, Errrr, maybe onto something here. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley concluded that his city council would never pass meter rate hikes. So he essentially politically bribed council with a giant one-shot privatization. Less than a year after the Chicago council voted against a modest mayor’s meter hike, it passed the huge parking deal with JP Morgan which raised rates many times the mayor’s earlier proposal. It so happens that Dep Mayor Goldsmith is an aficionado of meter privatization schemes. Does the NYC City Council have the spine to turn-down a $5B privatization one-shot in the face of increasing budget deficits? That would keep a lot of cops, firemen and teachers well paid, and on the job for the next couple of years. It would be the ultimate fiscal heroin rush for the spendthrift city council junkies who have been hooked on easy Wall St money these many years.

  • Marty Barfowitz

    I’d say Jim Vacca is turning out to be somewhat of a disaster. Why can’t NYC have a City Council Transportation chair who, at least, knows the fundamental basics of modern day transportation policy?

  • Marty Barfowitz

    It’s time for Vacca Watch. I mean, Vacca Vatch. City Council is turning out to be a dangerously regressive and small-minded policy-making body when it comes to transportation and livable streets. Vacca is the transportation policy leader of that body. He needs to be held accountable for the idiocy that is coming out of Council.

    Here’s what I wonder:

    As chair of this important City Council committee, what is Jim Vacca’s big picture vision for NYC transportation policy? Is Jim Vacca helping to move NYC toward safer, less congested more sustainable streets? Or is Jim Vacca merely helping to give a platform to idiots like Norman Steisel to rant about bike lanes? Does Jim Vacca have any vision beyond saving Queens residents a few quarters on meters (to the detriment of the drivers and merchants he claims to be helping)?

    Jim Vacca: You have an important job. What is your vision? What are you doing to move NYC transportation policy out of the 1970s and into the 21st century?

  • J

    Come on guys. It’s obvious that he has no vision. He’s is simply doing what is most politically palatable, which is opposing meter hikes, whatever the cost. Sure, it’s poor leadership, but we didn’t elect leaders to actually lead, did we?

  • Ken

    Vacca represents a district where more than 60 percent of households own cars (and you can bet the percentage is far higher among the households that help fill his campaign coffers). So we have a guy with allegiances like that playing a pivotal role in setting transportation policy for the entire city (thank you, Speaker Quinn). Of course higher parking rates would ultimately benefit the drivers he represents, but he either lacks the wit to comprehend that or the backbone to run with it.

  • JK

    Though, Barfo, don’t you have your question backwards? That sound from council chambers is Jimmy clicking his ruby slippers together and whispering “There’s no time like the ’70’s.” Jimmy, Marty, Norman and the gang yearn for those simpler times when, somehow, everyone you knew drove everywhere and could easily find a parking spot.

  • Marcia Kramer’s Eyebrow

    I am so glad to see that Vacca and the NYC Council worked so damn hard to make sure meters didn’t go up a measly 25 cents an hour but did absolutely nothing to prevent the MTA increase.

  • JK

    Can Streetsblog get Vacca to explain his illogic? Double parking or parking in a bus stop or crosswalk is a $115 ticket. Council wants you to save a quarter an hour at the meter. To equal the cost of one ticket, you have to park 460 hours at a meter. Since most meters have one or two hour limits, this would mean parking every day for about a year at the local meters. Is the real story here that store owners are parking all day at meters and that the city enforces expired meters, and not time limits? Every survey the city does shows widespread overtime parking in areas with low meter rates.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Again, the question to be asked of our “elected” official is this:

    Do you deny that as a result of the decisions, non-decisions and deals of the past 30 years, that younger generations of Americans will have a lower standard of living than those who went before, and and may not even be able to afford automobiles?

    That they will pay higher taxes, and receive diminished public services and benefits?

    All while being forced to pay for those who went before in retirement?

    And that the United States is facing a protracted decline due to its foreign oil dependence and the debts run up, in part, to pay for it?

    And that the city has de-funded its own transit system, which is not so deep in debt that even a massive, unpopular and unjust tax increase was not enough to stop a downward spiral?

    Given that, how do you propose that younger generations should be able to live in this city five, ten, 20 years from now? Or is that not your problem?

  • Errrr

    It’s not relevant if Vacca understands the underlying economic concepts; the problem is that the majority of his constituents don’t.

  • fdr

    “Jimmy Vacca has his finger on the pulse of New York and he came through big-time for us,” said John Bonizio, owner of Metro Optics. “He’s the conscience of the Council.”

    That quote will be on Vacca’s next piece of campaign literature. That’s his vision.

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