opinion Newport Rhode Island

The proposal by the Newport City Council to increase parking fees from $1.25/hour to $4/hour (a more than 300% increase) in high traffic areas, and extending the paid parking season from March to November, is a misguided attempt to generate revenue for the city. This proposal, which is slated for final approval on April 12, will hurt local businesses, discourage tourism, and unfairly burden workers and those doing business in the city who rely on street parking.

Firstly, the proposed increase in parking fees will have a negative impact on local businesses and especially restaurants. Many visitors to Newport come for a day trip or a weekend getaway and are attracted to the city’s charming streets, unique shops, and historic sites. If parking fees become prohibitively expensive, these visitors may choose to go elsewhere, resulting in a significant loss of revenue for local businesses.

The City Council’s claim that increasing the parking fee will create “turnover” dismisses the reality of human behavior. For example, say a visiting family goes out to dinner. Do city officials really believe that “random visitor” will rush out on dinner with [parents, spouse, children, uncle, good friends, etc.] to save $4 extra charge on a parking meter? No, the visitor, if still spending time in Newport, will finish dinner with their friends or family, and begrudgingly spend the extra $4 parking fee. They will also very likely spend less at the dinner (skip an extra drink, dessert, or, much more likely, lower the server’s tip) and, even more likely, complain to others about Newport’s “price gouging” parking meters. Is extra revenue worth ruining Newport’s reputation and tourism industry?

The reasoning that higher parking fees will create “turnover” is also illogical. Have city officials ever parked in Newport in the summer? To say parking is limited is an understatement. Why would someone give up a valuable, limited parking spot in Newport in the summer over a few dollars? They wouldn’t. Also, the City Council’s goal to create “turnover” parking is detrimental to both reducing traffic and fighting climate change. In other words, if drivers were motivated to quickly turnover a parking space (which I highly doubt), it would create more cars on the road and, therefore, more car emissions and traffic jams.

Moreover, extending the paid parking season from March to November will hurt Newport’s local tourism industry, restaurants, and small businesses. Many local residents from Portsmouth, Middletown, and other surrounding communities come to Newport to enjoy the off-season peace and quiet before tourist season. Many restaurants also rely on this business during slower shoulder seasons. By extending the paid parking season, local visitors may be discouraged from visiting the area, as they will have to pay exorbitant parking fees even during the off-season.

Finally, the proposed increase in parking fees will unfairly burden workers who cannot afford to live in Newport and rely on street parking. Has the City Council done any research on how many workers rely on meter parking in light of the current housing crisis? Non-residents do not have access to residential parking and rely on meter parking to go about their business. Increasing parking fees will make it more difficult and expensive for non-residents to park their cars, adding an unnecessary financial burden on those who can least afford it.

In conclusion, the proposed increase in parking fees and extended paid parking season in Newport is a short-sighted measure that will have negative consequences for local businesses, tourism, and workers who cannot afford to live in Newport. The city should focus on finding alternative sources of revenue that do not place an undue burden on its visitors.

Sandy McGee

Portsmouth, RI 

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