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Weekend parking is no free ride downtown

Though the streets are deserted, it's still possible to get a ticket when parking too long downtown.

By SUSAN THURSTON, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published August 23, 2002


Michael Otto never expected to get a parking ticket while visiting downtown Tampa on a Sunday afternoon.

The city takes a snooze during the weekends, leaving guests with their pick of parking spots along the streets. Surely, the city's meter maids wouldn't be out in full force.

Wrong. When Otto and his wife returned from watching a movie at Tampa Theatre, they found a bright orange parking ticket posted to their windshield.

"Who's ever heard of getting a parking ticket on Sunday for parking on a deserted street in a downtown area?" asked an exasperated Otto, who lives in Oldsmar.

Otto was ticketed for parking at an expired meter. Like others who visit downtown on the weekends, he wrongly thought parking was free.

Otto parked at a meter on Jackson Street with a sign on the post that says: "Maximum 2-hour parking Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. No restrictions other enforced hours." In his mind, that meant "free on the weekends."

But under the city's rules, it means people can park for two hours at a time on weekdays, or longer on nights and weekends.

In either case, it's not free. Small print on the actual meters indicates the hours of enforcement.

"A lot of people just focus on the 8-to-5 part. They don't take the time to look at the rest of the meter," said Eduardo Prieto, the city's parking enforcement supervisor.

The city generally enforces meters until 6 p.m. on the north end of downtown, north of Kennedy Boulevard, and until midnight on the south end, near the Ice Palace. Enforcement in Ybor City goes until 3 a.m.

On average, the city issues about 10,000 parking tickets a month, Prieto said. That includes meter violations, as well as violations for parking in handicapped zones and no-parking areas. Parking enforcement officers are on duty seven days from 8 a.m. to 3:30 a.m.

City officials say enforcement is necessary to prevent people from hogging a parking spot for too long. They want turnover.

"The parking meters on the street should be for short trips," said Jose Fernandez, assistant parking manager. "You're paying for convenience."

For long-term parking, the city prefers motorists use a garage. That way, they don't have to worry about feeding a meter or getting a ticket, Fernandez said.

Money generated from parking tickets and meters goes back into the parking department to cover salaries and the maintenance and construction of city-run garages. The parking department gets no money from the city. It is entirely self-sufficient and runs on an annual budget of about $19-million.

Changing the meter policy would require City Council action, Fernandez said. The city has about 2,800 meters, which cost $1.25 an hour.

Otto said the city should be more lenient if it wants to encourage more people to come downtown. At the very least, he said, it needs to make the signs clearer.

After writing his check to the city for $15, he said he planned to think twice about coming downtown for recreation. And if he does, "I'm going to be more leery about parking."

-- Writer Susan Thurston can be reached at thurston@sptimes.com or 226-3394.

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