TAMPA — Soon after parking rate increases went into effect Jan. 1, the complaints began.
They soon grew into an avalanche of angry emails and calls, especially from downtown churchgoers, residents and Riverwalk enthusiasts who resented having to pay $2.50 an hour on Sunday morning to park in spaces that, until 2021 dawned, had been free.
Last week, the Tampa City Council swatted away Mayor Jane Castor’s administration’s pleas to suspend parking fees downtown on Sunday mornings for six months instead of doing away with new citywide rates and improvements altogether.
Instead they voted 4-2 to begin repealing the parking ordinance, passed without much discussion or angst in November.
“We made a mistake,” said council member John Dingfelder. “It’s up to us to pull it back.”
The council’s move came over the objections of Mobility Director Vik Bhide, who said the problem on Sunday mornings downtown could be fixed by administrative action. It didn’t require tearing up the ordinance, he said.
Starting fresh could also imperil the new parking paradigm put in place last year, which encourages people in densely populated areas to use alternate means of transportation. Rate increases and other changes would change people’s habits, encourage density and help make housing more affordable, Bhide said.
The new philosophy has been “studied, tried and tested,” Bhide said.
Aside from that, downtown parking fees hadn’t been enforced since early January. The fifteen tickets handed out on the first Sunday in January had either remained unpaid or been refunded, he said.
Council members Bill Carlson and Luis Viera sided with the administration, saying citywide parking rates and improvements shouldn’t be thrown out when a tweak for downtown would do the trick.
But their colleagues disagreed. Orlando Gudes said he wanted Ybor City parking complaints to be reexamined, especially the lack of options for downtown hospitality workers. Joseph Citro wanted parking downtown to be free every day because of various social service activities occurring in the area bounded by Florida Avenue, Kennedy Boulevard and Cass and Pierce streets.
Chairman Guido Maniscalco, who initiated council action on the issue last month, agreed that starting over was the best option. Charlie Miranda was absent for the vote.
Council members directed city staff to bring back plans to repeal the ordinance for the March 18 meeting. Until then, Bhide said, the city wouldn’t enforce the downtown fees.