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Let Food Trucks Feed the Meter

Providence has a relatively thriving food truck scene for a city of its size, but I still hear yearly grumblings that restaurant owners challenge the legality of parking a food truck on the street. Food trucks are asked to park two hundred feet away from business districts, told they can stay only for a short period of time, or asked to leave entirely. Often they agree to these terms, but the situation isn't really fair to the trucks or productive for the neighborhood.  Thayer St. is ground zero for this problem, probably because of its very success: it has high levels of pedestrian activity at most hours of the day and night, very few parking spots, and very high rental rates. Food trucks are part of what makes Thayer Street a great place, so this conflict needs to be worked out.

As with many problems in Providence, the food truck situation comes down to poor parking management. 

A parking spot is like real estate that we insist is free most of the time (against all logic). Then, when people treat that spot as if it's free, we get annoyed with them, because of course many of the things that a person will do in a free space go against what we might want as individuals. This is what sets the stage for the conflict on Thayer--the parking is metered, but at an arbitrary, fairly low rate--instead of being based on occupancy levels. It makes perfect sense that restaurants who pay rent for building space should want trucks to do the same, but the rules that are set up by the business district and the city don't allow for that to happen. The result is a semi-detente where food trucks are kind of allowed, but kind of not allowed. Businesses don't like uncertainty, and that's exactly what this is.

The city doesn't allow "feeding the meter". Feeding the meter is when you pay the cost of being in a parking spot, but for longer than the arbitrary time limit on the spot. Most of Providence's street parking is free, and turnover is encouraged using these clunky time limits. Especially weird is when the parking isn't free but there's still a time limit. After all, if people are staying longer than you'd like them to, maybe you're not charging the right price?

It's like ticketing a person for seeing a second movie, or buying a second burrito. 

Give the restaurants what belongs to restaurants, give the trucks what belong to trucks. What the Thayer St. business district should do is insist that money collected from meters should go to them, so that they may use it as they may. Perhaps they just want the money to help pay rent. Or maybe they want to plant trees, fix sidewalks, and add more attractions like chairs and tables to the street. Whatever they use it for, though, the food trucks could be a major component of paying the fees. Let the trucks feed the meter all day long if they wish, so long as the rate is set high enough to leave a few spaces open on the street. 

The most active times on Thayer are without cars.
Higher parking rates may end up attracting more trucks. As you raise the fees, if the trucks still find it worthwhile to be on Thayer, they'll stay. Oddly enough, the fees may bring more trucks rather than fewer. Other trucks may see the success and join them, even bidding out some private cars. But is this a problem? No. The trucks must be attracting enough pedestrian customers to pay for the spots. The street will be becoming more active.

We already close Thayer St. from time to time, and when we do, it's packed. The new parklet on Thayer usually has far more people at it than a car parked in it could bring. So why not extrapolate from this experience and realize that a street full of food trucks may be far better than a street holding a few people's private vehicles?  Parking is space that should be put to its highest use, and this is the way to sort that out.

I've tinkered with this article a bit to fix typos and correct awkward phrasing.

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