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Gold Line rider feels effects of parking meter rate hike

March 2, 2009 | 11:35 am

As many readers are keenly aware, the Los Angeles City Council  last year raised its parking meter rates across town, with no meters excluded from the hike. The number of hours that many meters had to be plugged also was expanded. The move is expected to bring the city $18 million extra annually.

That's the background leading up to an interesting e-mail I received from a reader named Bob Thomas who had a beef involving the city parking lots next to the Gold Line station in Highland Park. Whereas motorists used to be able to park for a day for $2 at the 10-hour meters in the lots, the cost is now $4.

That means that riders planning on using the Gold Line to go to work must spend $4 a day for parking plus $2.50 for a roundtrip or $5 for a day pass if they need to transfer to another train or bus (it's much less if they have a weekly or monthly pass). That's $6.50 for a 15-minute train ride to Union Station or $9 for anywhere else.

The problem: If the goal is to get people out of cars, is that really much of a savings over driving? Particularly to downtown?

"It's just typical of government to set forth a policy without thinking through all the unintended consequences," Thomas wrote in an an e-mail. "In this case, perhaps someone did and decided that the pros outweighed the cons but I find it typical of an attitude that always seems to put public transit at the bottom of the pecking order."

With that in mind, I called Councilman Ed Reyes, who represents Highland Park, and asked him if it also seemed to him that charging $4 to park at a mass transit station seemed counter-productive. Reyes -- as he has said before publicly -- quickly agreed that the Council blew it with the meter rate hikes. The problem, in his view, is that there are some cases where cheaper parking is needed to accomplish goals such as propping up emerging business areas or encouraging transit use.

Reyes started by saying how he got an earful and then some at a recent community meeting in Lincoln Heights. "If they could have hung me in effigy, they would have," Reyes said. "I spent a half-hour apologizing for the stupidity of this."

So why did he vote for it?

"I did because of the way it was put forth to us -- it was a knee-jerk reaction to a $400-million budget deficit and we were looking for ways to create revenue," Reyes said. "I did not look at the complexity of this impact."

In early January, Reyes authored a motion asking city officials to reexamine the rate hikes and to see if there is a way rate hikes' effect could be measured. He's not against rating some meter rates but said that the more dramatic hikes should have been phased in and that there should be a policy governing which meters get an increase and which do not.

As for Thomas, I spoke to him Friday afternoon and he says that he's seeing more cars parked in the residential neighborhood near the Highland Park station where there are no meters or time limits for parking. On Friday at 10 a.m., he counted zero cars at the 10-hour meters. "I wonder," Thomas said, "if they're making any more money than before."

RELATED: Here's a link to another Times story  about the impact of the meter changes.

-- Steve Hymon