Parking Price Gouging Downtown?

Brent Finnegan -- December 22nd, 2010

Owners of the parking lot in downtown Harrisonburg between Jack Brown’s and Adona Music did away with metered parking in October and leased the lot to Potomac Parking.

In a neighborhood where city-owned parking is free, parking fees in Gus Floros’ privately-owned lot jumped from quarters to dollars: $1 for two hours, $20 for a week. If drivers don’t pay or let the time run out, their car may be booted, which costs $75 to remove.

Last week Doug Manners wrote two stories about the change in the Daily News Record. Those stories pointed out two problems with the policy: The sign in the lot reads “public parking,” and according to the Code of Virginia, the boot removal fee is three times the state limit.

Even before those stories were published, downtowners took notice. On December 13, Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance tweeted a warning to downtown patrons, clarifying that Gus’s lot is private.

Manners reported in the DNR that “the word ‘paid’ will be added to the large-sized “24-hour public parking” at the top of the five signs on the lot.”

As for the boot removal fee that’s $50 over the allowance in the state code? That cap doesn’t appear to have any teeth.

Harrisonburg has no ordinance regulating booting fees […] Charles Chenault, who takes his seat on City Council in January, said he’s interested in looking into the booting ordinance if Potomac Parking doesn’t drop the fee to $25. Although it’s a private lot, Chenault said it reflects on the city and downtown.

“If it’s not enforceable the way it is,” he said, “we should contact our legislators to give the legislation some teeth so we can enforce it.”

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51 Responses to “Parking Price Gouging Downtown?”

  1. People should just boycott this parking lot until the owners get there act together, including cutting back on that illegal boot removal expense.

    • Lowell Fulk says:

      I agree with Barkley, don’t park there if you’re not willing to pay what the owners seek to charge. If enough people do so, the owners will change. If however, people are willing to pay the cost to park there, I suppose the market will bear the cost and the issue is mute. It breaks my heart that what is now a private parking lot used to be a grand theater, but it is privately owned…
      I wish previous councils had had more vision.

  2. Where can I get me one of these parking boots? I have…an…idea…

  3. Dianne Fulk says:

    “Dosent”, really? Doesn’t anyone have spell check or proof read anymore?

    • They have a “counterfiet” version of Microsoft Word, so it “dosent” catch all the misspellings.

    • seth says:

      i was wondering the same thing when i read that the ‘issue is mute.’ :)

      charlie, can you help me understand why the state code is unenforceable? it seems to state pretty clearly that the limit for removal fees is $25. while it does say that cities/counties/towns can set their own limits, i would think that common sense dictates that in the absence of such a local ordinance, localities would defer to state law.

      does the assessment of the ordinance as unenforceable have to do with the fact that it doesn’t clearly enumerate the punishment for a violation? what am i missing here?

  4. Emmy says:

    I’m ALL for boycotting this lot. Of course, I haven’t parked there since he put the meters in.

  5. Ross says:

    Dianne, (2 N’s–Thank You!)
    It is great to see you on here! I really enjoy you and Lowell. Hope you are gonna be a player here on H’Burgnews.com…Please

  6. Renee says:

    I haven’t parked there since the changeover – glad I’m not working at my nearby downtown office daily right now.

    By the way, that is one big ugly sign. Nice juxtaposition in the photo with the downtown signs many people previously thought were too big and not-pretty.

  7. Grant Penrod says:

    The $25 cap in the state code does have “teeth.” A separate part of the state code called the Virginia Consumer Protection Act (VCPA) provides penalties for charging more than $25.

    Basically, under the VCPA the Commonwealth’s Attorney or the Attorney General may charge the company $2,500 per violation. A person who was charged the illegal fee may also file a civil lawsuit against the company and get $500 in damages (or $,1000 if the company willfully violated the law) plus their attorney’s fees for bringing the lawsuit.

    These penalties are not referenced in the law that creates the $25 cap, so unless you are familiar with the VCPA you’d be unlikely to find the “teeth” right away.

    • seth says:

      thanks grant,
      great info. i’m gonna go get my car booted this afternoon. i’m pretty sure that if i record the interaction where i explain the VCPA to the potomac parking employee, as well as put a call in to whoever is running that show, i can make the easiest grand i’ve ever seen.

      • I’d think about this a bit–it might weaken your case if you intentionally leave your car there too long, intentionally let it get towed, etc. (I’m not a lawyer, though I sometimes watch other people play them on tv…)

    • Thanks, Grant.

      So, who’s first? Who’s going to sue?

      Also, this is my favorite line in the DNR story (from the Potomac Parking director) —

      “Over here in D.C., we rarely boot. Everybody pays. I don’t understand the culture” at the Harrisonburg lot.”

      Haha!

      • Brooke says:

        I think Grant and company should file a massive class action lawsuit on behalf of all those wrongfully charged.

        • I’m not certain there’s a violation of federal law or whether Potomac Parking is headquartered outside of Virginia…so I’m not sure there’s federal jurisidiction, required in Virginia to maintain a class action suit…

          Virginia courts don’t recognize class actions, but I think they recognize MASS actions.

    • Myron Rhodes says:

      Mr. Penrod,

      Didn’t you work on behalf of some folks to sue title loan lenders?

  8. Holly says:

    Grant, you are my hero.

  9. Bubby Hussein, Hillbilly Sheikh says:

    So you buy a ticket with time on it and if it expires hotdogman’s parking goons boot or tow your car? Really? The City should yank Potomac’s business license.

  10. Emmy says:

    You know what bugs me even more about this? It’s that this is the closest lot to the owner’s business. If you aren’t local then you don’t realize that you are paying this man before you even walk into his restaurant!

    So you’ve paid to park or paid to have a boot removed, paid for your lunch, and that doesn’t even take into account the bills for the coronary the food will give you…or at least a bad case of indigestion ;)

    • What bugs me is the lot used to house a theater that should have never been torn down.

      • Lowell Fulk says:

        You and I are in complete agreement Deona. And it’s not like the opportunity slipped by unnoticed. The Virginia Theater was considered for purchase jointly by the Rockingham County Board of Supervisors, City Council, and James Madison University.

        It was a wonderful site with much history which has tragically been lost.

        • Emmy says:

          I was talking with someone about this not too long ago and was told that the theater was in such terrible shape that it made no real sense to try to save it. I have no clue if that’s true because I was too young to remember it, but perhaps others know more about that than I do.

  11. Lowell Fulk says:

    A few questions come to mind:

    1. Who owns, and pays taxes on this property?

    2. Is anyone forcing people to park in this lot?

    3. Does anyone who chooses to park in this lot have the opportunity to do so if they pay the fee which is required to park?

    4. By making the conscious choice to park one’s auto in this lot, does one not tacitly agree to the terms of payment for the convenience of being allowed to so do?

    Check me for spelling and usage here, Seth. I know such things are far more important to you than content.

    There are two simple solutions to this situation which seems to have good folks so confounded.

    1. Do as Barkley so wisely advised, and simply refuse to spend your hard earned money to park your auto in this private lot.

    or…

    2. Everyone get together and pool your money and purchase the property from the owner. Then you shall be empowered to allow free parking if you so choose. Or parking at $.25 per hour, or what ever you please, because it will be your property to do with as you choose within the bounds of City policy.

    Is my spelling and usage o.k. so far Seth? Because I know that an error will negate all of any points made by default.

    I think the best post made on this topic is by Brent when he asks: “So, who’s first? Who’s going to sue?”

    And also when he quotes: “Over here in D.C., we rarely boot. Everybody pays. I don’t understand the culture” at the Harrisonburg lot.”

    Seems like if you don’t want a boot, then pay for parking in the lot… Don’t want to pay for parking? Park somewhere else. Not really all that complicated it would seem.

    • Emmy says:

      No, it isn’t complicated and I think most people who know much about the situation probably do choose to park elsewhere. I think it just doesn’t sit well with a lot of long-time residents who know what used to be on this lot, who know who owns the lot and how he’s essentially charging people twice for coming to his business, and who find parking downtown already a bit annoying.

      • Emmy says:

        What I’m getting at is that it’s more the idea of the situation than the actual legality of it that’s ticking people off. May not be a good reason…but it doesn’t stop me from being irritated.

    • Brooke says:

      Lowell, I could be wrong (and someone please correct me if I am wrong) but I believe the lot is owned by the owner of Jess’ or a trust in his name.

      I would have to wonder do people know that it will be $75? How do they determine which cars to boot? I understand the things that are on the list, but I’m still curious about some of the circumstances surrounding how people are being booted. Is it simply people refusing to get a ticket or not paying up when they go over (in which case I don’t feel THAT bad for them), or is it the parking people (and the business owner) taking advantage of someone who is a little bit late leaving, and booting cars before they have a chance to pay for the over time? There’s a huge difference between a parking ticket when your meter runs over (which you’d expect) and actually getting booted, and then getting charged more than double the legal amount, as soon as one runs over, if that is what’s happening.

      If people were not aware of all the facts because not all the facts about how, how much, and why you might get booted were made available to them, then yeah, I do think they have a legitimate gripe. I don’t see anything about $75 on the sign. Do you?

      Honestly, I don’t really have a dog in this fight. I’ve been hearing stories for years about the kind of person the owner of the lot is, and how people have been treated that have parked there, so I avoid that parking lot like the plague (that and I live within walking distance to downtown), but to someone who isn’t aware, and finds themselves with nowhere else to park nearby, I could see it being a rude awakening.

      And yeah, I do hope someone finds a way to make the parking company come into compliance with the legal limits of what they can charge.

    • seth says:

      lowell,
      since you asked, spelling and usage seem fine here (although i didn’t mean to suggest that mixing up two unrelated words negated your point (the fact that the issue is obviously not settled negates that particular point, even if you had gotten the words correct), only to agree with your wife that it seems that proof reading is becoming a part of a bygone era).

      with regards to the self-evident/uncomplicated points you make above, the newsworthy part of the story at this point has to do with why the city would prefer to let this work it’s way through the courts rather than enforce the state law.

  12. Brooke says:

    It would appear that Potomac Parking Logistics, LLC is headquartered in Falls Church, and so, yes, they do fall under Virginia State Law.

    http://www.manta.com/c/mm0rfsp/potomac-parking-logistics-llc

    I have to say I was more than a little put off by their “powered by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” at the bottom of their website. I mean if they’re Christians, then great, I get wanting to give God glory, but at the same time, I think if you’re going to do that, you have to make doubly sure you’re following the law and not engaging in questionable business practices. Otherwise, your kind of saying Jesus is ok with it. :-(

  13. Brooke says:

    Thanks, Lowell, and a very Merry Christmas to you and your Family as well! :-)

  14. Jamie Smith says:

    Well, this thread certainly proved the old adage that everyone can talk about parking, but nobody can really solve the problem.

  15. David Miller says:

    Parking downtown is and always will be a contentious issue. Many fine folks have worked for years to improve downtown parking and continue to do so. I think that the most important thing that can be done by the owners of the private for profit lot is to modify their signage so as to correctly distinguish their lot from the actual public lots that we have worked so hard to provide free of charge to all. As long as the choice is clear then people are welcome to pay for parking that they deem to be more convenient than the one directly adjacent to this that is truly public and free.

    • Renee says:

      The City could put signs on City property surrounding the lot saying “<<>>” :)

      • Renee says:

        huh, wordpress saw the dashes as code and truncated my post… anyway, the signs could say (with arrows pointing at the lots):
        THAT’s a PRIVATELY OWNED parking lot. FREE city parking that way!!

        • David Miller says:

          If Gus doesn’t come through on his commitment to the DNR to change the signage then that would be a fun approach to the problem.

  16. Ross says:

    Couldn’t the City of Harrisonburg pay Jess’ (owner of the parking lot) a yearly fee to let people park there FREE? The city helps OTHER businesses in many different ways to attract customers.

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