By Joe Anuta
A group of lawmakers announced legislation Sunday that would cap increases in parking meter fees after the city proposed a fee hike that is scheduled to take effect in January.
City Councilwoman Diana Reyna (D-Ridgewood) and Councilman James Vacca (D-Bronx) want legislation that would prevent the city from raising rates by more than 25 percent over any five-year period without permission from the Council. They announced the legislation in response to the city Department of Transportation, which proposed to raise rates from 75 cents to $1 an hour at meters around the borough.
“The whole borough of Queens will see a conversion,” said Vacca, chairman of the Council Committee on Transportation. “It’s ‘nickel-and-quartering’ the average person.”
The rate hikes will discourage shoppers who normally patronize small businesses in commercial hubs around the borough, he said.
“I feel it’s a definite negative for small business,” Vacca said. “It’s going to cost people more to shop.”
Vacca added that when the increase is combined with overzealous metermaids, it will further discourage shoppers from parking on the street.
“It will increase the ‘I got ya’ aspect of this,” he said.
A spokesman from the city Department of Transportation said that the hike is part of a citywide set of proposals designed to help balance the budget.
The change is expected to be implemented over a six-month period beginning in January and ending June 30, he added.
But a small business owner in Ridgewood fears that the higher rates will encourage potential shoppers to travel out to the suburbs — where parking is free — instead of supporting the local economy.
“It’s only going to chase people away,” said Herman Hochberg, chairman of the Myrtle Avenue Business Improvement District “If they destroy the strip stores, they will destroy the neighborhood.”
The city raised the parking meter rates to 75 cents in 2009. Before that, the rate had been 50 cents per hour for the last 17 years, according to a statement from Vacca.
After the last increase, fewer people came to Myrtle Avenue in Ridgewood to shop, according to Hochberg.
“I see more open meters,” he said, adding that shoppers often park away from main streets to avoid paying for the meter.
He said the same thing could happen for other commercial hubs around the borough, such as Austin Street in Forest Hills or Jamaica Avenue in Jamaica.
“It may not sound much, but a dollar an hour is a lot of money,” Hochberg said. “This is a working-class neighborhood.”
The rate increase will save the DOT $3 million a year, according to a department spokesman.
But Hochberg said the city should find other ways to cut costs.
“Fire one or two metermaids,” he said.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4566.