What's the opposite of winning the lottery? Parking tickets.
There aren't many things worse than getting off of a long, difficult shift at a popular Charleston eatery, your feet aching as you walk to your car, your mind trying to digest all the psychological shit you absorbed from horrible customers to power tripping managers, only to get to your car to find a parking ticket. Sometimes multiple. Not one punch in the face, two. I've even heard nightmare stories of three. Or, it's 1:30 in the morning, you're exhausted, and you arrive at your car to find the dreaded boot. The fucking boot! You fall to your knees asking the heavens what you did to deserve this torture? Add to that the fact that in the last 20 years the basic parking ticket has gone from $6 to $25. Not to mention that these tickets are mainly given to workers who don't live in the neighborhood they are parking in because, of course, they only work there.
I work in a restaurant on Broad Street but I live in Park Circle. Guess why I live 14 miles from where I work? My wife works on Wentworth Street, so, again, why do we live so far away? We're so silly, we should have bought a house on Church Street and called it a day, right? We both could have skipped to work wearing 'Life is Good' T-shirts and neither of us would ever have to worry about parking tickets.
Charleston real estate prices are skyrocketing, which basically prices everyone who makes under $120,000 a year off the peninsula. Unless you bought 15 years ago or before, you better be loaded. I'm not bitter. But this real estate bubble is creating a problem — parking for the working class.
If you work in hotels or restaurants on the peninsula, you probably cannot afford to live on the peninsula. Which means you have to commute. Now I know that this is very common in expensive, urban cities like New York City, San Francisco, and L.A. But, unlike those cities, Charleston has the public transportation equivalent of an 80-year-old's sex life, it doesn't come around often and when it does, it's semi-functional at best, slow at worst. So we drive to work, and that's where the evil game begins. Those of us who work downtown in the hospitality industry have basically three choices for parking, and guess what? They all blow. You can, 1), pay for a garage, which, if you're a server, might costs you 10 percent of your income from a shift (seems fair). You can, 2), try to find a meter, but you'll have to feed it, which is against the law and you might get in trouble for leaving work every two hours. Or, 3), you can roll the dice and park in a residential spot, which is free but after one or two hours you are leaving yourself open to winning the lottery. (Sarcasm folks, get used to it). Sweet, thanks City of Charleston. Way to take care of the labor force that makes this city run.
It's strange that the city doesn't do anything for workers as far as parking goes, because when I looked up the official budget for the City of Charleston, they only net a measly $23.6 million off parking and violations. I get it, they need the $23.6 million to not create mass-transit and to give our roads that third world feel. I'm obviously not a city planner.
When you live in a downtown neighborhood you get a parking permit decal that allows you to park on the street in that area without the threat of being ticketed. Why not offer a similar decal for workers that businesses could hand out to their employees? Call me crazy, but I think workers should park for free in city owned garages or at metered spots. There might be 23 million reasons why we don't have that option, but I think enough is enough. Let's remind this town that the workers are the blood that brings oxygen to this body. Tourism brings over $3 billion dollars to this city a year and none of it would happen without the workers.
Let us park for free, or create a serious mass-transit system that actually works and doesn't leave us out in the rain waiting for a bus that might come around. Most restaurants serve until 10 p.m., and it takes us at least 90 minutes to close up, but CARTA stops running at 9 p.m. Is this some kind of a joke? If it is, somebody needs to get slapped, 'cause this isn't funny and it's been going on for far too long.
I know how the city responds, they say that CARTA routes were trimmed down because ridership was so low, it wasn't cost effective. But that's because it's a bad transit system. Crappy transit gets a crappy ridership. Build it and we will ride. In New York, San Francisco, Paris, and Chicago people choose not to own a car because there's little reason to. Not to mention it lightens up the traffic on streets and is better for the environment.
While doing research for this piece, I stumbled onto a little known pilot program that the city is starting that addresses this serious issue for the workforce of Charleston. According to my research, the pilot offers workers of any hotel or restaurant that belongs to the Greater Charleston Restaurant Association a reduced flat fee of $5 to park in one of six designated city owned parking garages. Now I don't know how the program is doing or if it's going to be rolled out on a wider scale, but I do know nothing will happen if Charleston workers don't start making demands. Charleston workforce, ask your employer about getting involved so you can save some of your hard earned money. In my opinion, this program is only a partial solution to a big problem but at least the city has acknowledged the problem exists and is taking steps to look out for the little guy.