EditorialYou can spin it any way you want, but parking in Ithaca is a nightmare.  It's not because you can't find a space -- you can.  It's because of a byzantine system that has replaced something simple that everyone could understand: parking meters.  Let's face it -- you can call it "Parking Made Easy" as the city has done, but if you need a whole Web site to explain to people how to park, and if you need to create brochures and classes on how the parking system works... you're not making it easy. 

I love the City of Ithaca, but I almost never go there any more.  The parking is just too aggravating.  That's a shame for me, and terrible for the city.  But I simply don't miss going into Ithaca more than its parking system confuses and irritates me.

Last night my wife and I parked in the garage next to Cinemapolis.  It used to be that you got a ticket on the way in, then turned it in with your money on the way out.  Two quick steps, close to no waiting.  The first step remains the same.  Last night there was a line of people standing in the cold, waiting their turn to use the pay station.  Once they paid they got in their car and waited in line to exit, because now you needed to put your ticket in a slot to open the gate to leave.  Except it was not clear where to insert the ticket.  So the line moved more slowly than it needed to.
Paying by credit card is a convenience in some instances, when shopping online, for example, or paying your phone bill.  When you use it to pay for parking you pay a 'convenience fee'.  I assume they call it a convenience fee because the city finds it convenient to collect a fee.  Well, no doubt they call it that because they think I find it convenient to pay with a credit card instead of money.  In simpler times, quarters were only inconvenient when I forgot them.  Otherwise they were very convenient, and I understood exactly how they related to the amount of parking time I had.

When I park downtown I have taken to using the ParkMobile app on my phone.  For several months I thought that was only good where there are no pay stations, so I would park blocks away from where I wanted to go to avoid standing in line.  I finally stopped at a pay station and read the directions, to find that I could use it in those zones if I wanted to.  I had to walk over to the pay station to learn this.  And last night I didn't see any indication that the app is usable in the garage.  On the parking Web site they have a picture showing using the app for 'gated parking' (no instructions, just the picture) but I still don't see how it would have been usable last night.

I have to admit the app is very well done.  Once you put your license plate and credit card information in, it is easy to start a parking session, especially because the whole city seems to be one big parking zone, so you don't have to worry about which zone you are in.  It even alerts you when your time is almost up, and lets you refill the virtual meter without going back to your car.

On the Department of Public Works' parking site they say, "By paying through the Parkmobile App, you will not need to pay at a pay station."  Marketing 101 will tell you that when selling something to the public you identify a problem and then offer your solution.  It is true that the app is a solution to the pay station problem.  The trouble with this positive spin is that the city created the problem in the first place.

Every downtown merchant I have spoken to hates the new parking system.  They say it is too complicated and is hurting their business.  The city instituted a way that merchants, at their own expense, could give their customers a few minutes of free parking.  Is this a penalty for locating your business downtown?

I'm not going to tell you that I like paying for parking, but I do understand why it is necessary.  Potholes are not going to get filled unless some revenue source funds them.  I am OK with that.  But when you can make something simple you should make it simple.  People like simple.  When people go downtown they are not going there for the parking.  99% of their attention should be on whatever that purpose is... shopping, doing business, visiting friends, sightseeing... 1% of their experience should be on the parking piece.  When the first thing they do is complicated and stress-inducing it degrades the overall experience.

I am tempted to insist I am not a stupid person, so this shouldn't be so hard for me to understand.  But I won't.  Because even stupid people should be able to figure out parking just by going there and... well, parking.

Spinning a parking system like this as "Parking Made Easy" should be a crime.  Parking in Ithaca is not easy. 

Surely a vital downtown business environment is worth more to the city than whatever they make in parking fees.  If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there does it make a sound?  If a city is wonderful but nobody parks there...