On this Giving Tuesday, I heard a plug for a donation from my local public radio station, WFIU. As I was getting out my wallet to send something in, I heard an announcer say, offhandedly, "Sales may have also been helped by free parking downtown during the holiday weekend." So instead of a donation, I'm writing this note to help to set the station straight on this topic.
No, local public radio station, sales were almost definitely not helped by free parking downtown. Setting aside the attraction for drivers of cruising the streets to find that one perfect parking space, and whatever parking meter revenue was given up by the city, there's no telling how many people took advantage of the free parking to let their cars sit and take up space for several hours, blocking access for people who may have wanted to come in and shop. Retail sales depend on customers coming in and out of the stores, not people coming in and browsing for hours at a time. And anyway, people who are going to balk at spending a dollar or two on a parking space are hardly going to be the kind of free spenders that will seriously boost the sales numbers.
So overall, I'd have to say it's unfortunate that the city decided to subsidize drivers and Big Oil in this way. It's revenue that the city has lost, and left shouldering the burden for no benefit are (1) taxpayers who may happen to live downtown, (2) poor people who lack access to a vehicle at all, and (3) people who may choose to ride bicycles or take the bus downtown. Maybe for next Black Friday, the city could offer free bus transit rather than encouraging drivers to bring their personal vehicles downtown.