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City Talk: Charleston parking study looks relevant for Savannah

Researchers in the Office of Tourism Analysis at the School of Business at the College of Charleston recently released a detailed study of parking needs for hospitality workers on the peninsula.

While the study deals only with downtown Charleston, it nevertheless reveals some interesting trends that seem similar to those in Savannah.

I have previously argued in this column that proposed new parking policies in Savannah have not sufficiently considered the transportation costs of service industry workers. The city’s Parking Matters initiative (http://www.savannahga.gov/parkingmatters) has assembled an impressive amount of data, but we don’t have anything quite like the recent study in Charleston.

The service industry employees who responded to the Charleston survey were 60 percent female with an average age of 35. Almost two-thirds of the respondents work in lodging. About 40 percent have schedules that change weekly.

Fully 80 percent of the hospitality workers on the Charleston peninsula drive alone to and from work. I suspect a similar number here in Savannah. Public transportation schedules are often inconvenient, most workers can’t afford to live within easy walking distance of downtown and our bicycling infrastructure leaves much to be desired.

The Charleston study found that about 31 percent of workers spend $25 or less per month on parking, while about 30 percent spend over $100 per month.

Right now, we have free on-street parking throughout downtown after 5 p.m. So evening shift hospitality workers who don’t mind walking a few blocks – often less – pay little to nothing for parking.

When parking enforcement north of Liberty Street is extended till 8 p.m., some workers will go from paying nothing for parking to paying $6 per shift – over $100 a month for a full-time employee who might be making around $20,000 per year.

Yes, the city of Savannah offers a $35 per month overnight rate at three downtown garages, so night shift workers would likely choose that relatively inexpensive option. The problem is that some workers regularly change shifts or work double shifts in one day. With the extension of on-street enforcement north of Liberty until 8 p.m. and on weekends, many hospitality workers will be paying far more for parking than they are now.

As I’ve noted here before, I wouldn’t be arguing so strongly against the new policies if demand for downtown parking were greater. But the myth that there is “no downtown parking” has taken hold, and we’re about to start charging much more for on-street parking even on blocks where and at times when demand is negligible.

City officials seem sincere about addressing some of these issues, but I’m afraid that the new policies are going to be a major financial strain for many downtown workers.

City Talk appears every Sunday and Tuesday. Bill Dawers can be reached via billdawers@comcast.net. Send mail to 10 E. 32nd St., Savannah, Ga. 31401.

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