By Dennis Lesniak
The Buffalo Common Council does not care about small business.
On Dec. 11, they listened to proposed changes to on-street metered parking located downtown. This was three-fold: A 100 percent increase from current rates, an extension of metered parking hours, from 8-5 weekdays to 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday as well as on Saturdays, and the introduction of approximately 500 new spots.
The council tabled a decision to Dec. 18 and later to Jan. 2, 2019. However, on Dec. 26 they unanimously approved it. This vote came without an economic impact report or public input.
As a small business owner, I struggle with the stigma attached to downtown regarding a lack of safe and accessible parking.
My average client visits five times a week, stays for 80 minutes each visit, and uses the Buffalo Roam application to pay for parking. Users cannot pay for less than an hour and are only allowed a limited amount of time in each zone, forcing turnover of premium spots. Most of downtown is located in one zone with a four-hour time cap.
This person’s monthly parking fees will now double from approximately $40 to $80. That’s more than surrounding lots and ramps, which are currently full, have waitlists, and are primarily used by people who live or work downtown.
The more they have to pay, the less likely people are to spend additional time downtown. This is not an incentive to attract new visitors. This is a quick money grab by the city – a city with about $10 million in unpaid parking ticket fines and late penalties. How does the city plan to use this new revenue? What is the cost to monitor the additional 45 hours weekly of metered parking?
Buffalo has approximately 259,000 residents – a number dwarfed by the populations of cities like New York City and Toronto. Our downtown core does not have a population to sustain a grocery store let alone the disposable income to treat parking as a luxury.
I chose to relocate my business from a suburb to downtown in August 2016. I was optimistic about the growth and development. This vote was pushed through without due diligence. It increases financial strain on people who want to spend money downtown regularly and hurts businesses that rely on daily customer interactions.
The council ought to reevaluate its decision and compromise: Add more spots while introducing a lesser or gradual rate increase. Consider allowing Buffalo Roam to charge for smaller increments. Do not extend on-street metered parking. Listen to the nearly 20,000 people who signed a local petition – the residents who will remember this decision next election cycle.
Dennis Lesniak is the owner of Quarter Deck Athletics in Buffalo.