by Adam Manno
Downtown employees are dreading the upcoming parking meter rate hike from $1 to $2 per hour, which will match Charleston's parking garage rates but burden those making minimum wage or less.
The hike was authorized by Charleston City Council in its budget approval process in December. That process also sought to extend the hours of enforcement until 10 p.m. on weekdays.
The move was expected to free up more parking spaces and encourage alternate modes of transportation, such as bicycling or public transport., but many of Charleston's downtown employees dread the coming changes.
Hospitality workers who relied on the lack of enforcement past 6 p.m. say they will be especially affected.
"Should the meter increase go through, I’d have to pay from 4 p.m. when I start my shift until 10 p.m., or just park in a garage where the maximum is $16, so I can either pay 6 hours at $12 or $16," said Jonathan Graham, a downtown server who has been worked on the peninsula for four years.
Graham and other employees began thinking about organizing something when they caught wind of the upcoming price changes on Tuesday. They plan on taking their grievances to the next meeting of City Council on Tues. March 13. A Facebook event for the action has recorded more than 500 responses as of Thursday afternoon.
"If I was working for $12 an hour, well now I’m working for $10 an hour," Graham says. "That’s a lot of money."
According to the College of Charleston's Office of Tourism Analysis, roughly 7,700 people are employed by the city's 345 food and beverage establishments and 45 hotels. A hospitality workforce parking survey by the College found that 38.2 percent of the 503 respondents had gotten at least one parking citation in the past year.
Joshua Alford, a bartender at Halls Chophouse who usually takes advantage of a nearby empty lot for his parking needs, says he's more worried about his friends in the industry.
"The people really affected by this are back-of-house staff and people who will start having to dedicate a fifth or a sixth of what they make if they wanna park close by," he said. "The 10 p.m. extension is the real sticking point. You have people who are going to have to get out of work in the middle of shifts to feed the meter. That affects consumers as well."
A proposed park-and-ride for the city's hospitality workers was supposed to alleviate some of those parking woes, but according to CARTA spokesperson Daniel Brock, there is still no set date for the inauguration of a planned park-and-ride for downtown hospitality workers.
In Charlotte, N.C., parking meters cost $1 per hour and are monitored from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays. . In Savannah, Ga., the price of meters per hour goes up $1 per hour, and they're enforced from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. In Columbia, the city stepped up its metered parking enforcement until 6 p.m. in June, according to The State, though their metered spaces only cost 75 cents per hour