Downtown parking woes

Betty BeanKnox Scene

Downtown parking just got harder, meaner and (probably) more expensive (nothing gets cheaper, right?), as more businesses move to cashless transactions. California-based Metropolis has taken over management of most commercial lots. Prediction: It’s going to get worse unless the city puts some regulations in place.

Not long ago, I decided to attend a workshop at the East Tennessee History Center and maybe learn something on a rainy Saturday afternoon. I figured a half hour was plenty of time to get there. I figured to cruise the parking meters and save a little money.

No luck. And the clock was ticking.

So, I rolled into my favorite parking lot, knowing I’d have to hustle to be on time. The lot was half empty, so I parked, pulled out my debit card and walked to the kiosk to pay.

All clear, huh.

But everything looked different. There was no human attendant; no slot for a credit/debit card.  A big QR code, one of those squiggly bar codes crammed into a square, dominated the instructions sign, which told how to download an app into which bank information is fed. I don’t recall it asking for a blood type, but I wouldn’t swear it didn’t.

I also don’t remember how much it cost, but that’s probably because I’d left my cell phone sitting on the charger.

So, I hustled out of there and tried the Gay Street lot next to the sunken rowboat. Same deal. The one over behind the Episcopal church? Same. Finally, I found a meter right across Gay Street from my destination, and because it was Saturday, it was free. And I was only about 20 minutes late. Yay!

From here on out, if I want to have lunch at the Bistro or spend an afternoon in the library or buy stuff at the Union Avenue Bookstore or Mast General, I’d better figure out this new world of cashless, cardless parking and never forget my cell phone again. But what about people who can’t afford a smart phone (or download an app)? What about those who aren’t comfortable with their personal financial information like bank routing numbers being siphoned off and broadcast into the universe?

Every commercial lot I checked had switched to Metropolis. Even the two closest to the Duncan Building, which houses the Social Security office among others.

What to do? Call an Uber? (Nope. Too expensive) Ride the bus? (No stop near my house) Looks like my best option will be to surgically attach my phone to my hand and hire a 12-year-old to tutor me. Or stay home.

A friend who works downtown is aggravated, too. Until recently, his firm validated parking tickets for clients who parked in the basement of his building. Easy-peasy, and everybody’s happy. But now, what used to be a nice amenity has been taken over by Metropolis, and the whole process has become difficult. There’ll be no more free visitor parking.

Here’s how he describes the current situation:

“Pull in, and hopefully you see the sign with the QR code, and hopefully you have a smart phone so you can pay, and hopefully you have a bank account you can pay from. If you don’t, you’re going to get a Nastygram in the mail with a bill and service fees.” He was told that the bill starts at $42.50 – that’ll encourage a client to come back, right?

There is a glimmer of hope. Washington, D.C., has outlawed cashless commerce (unless it offers a cash-using option).

If you don’t like the sound of this, call your city council person and ask them to do what DC did.

Betty Bean writes a Thursday opinion column for


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