by Richard Lee

I entirely agree with the critics of Chestnut Hills’ parking kiosks, both merchants and disgruntled Hill shoppers (or are they former shoppers?): The Hill’s kiosks are our unwanted green-haired stepchildren, and they are business-busters.

The present state of Hill parking reminds me of George Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” in which it was famously written, “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.” Among Hill parkers, the most equal are those (like me, sometimes) who snag free spots on back and side streets not that far off Germantown Avenue – and, no, I’m not sharing my hard-earned knowledge.

The somewhat less equal are meter parkers on the Avenue, who get an equitable and long-standing deal: six minutes for a nickel, twelve minutes for a dime, a half hour for a quarter, and on up to the two-hour max. After certain hours and on Sundays, meter parking is free.

Finally, there are the totally unequal, those forced to use the green-haired stepkids, where small change won’t work, every parking rate is twice that of the meters, a car-to-machine-to-car walk is required, and enforcement is near-constant.

When I wrote “forced to use” I wasn’t kidding. As a weekly user of the lot off Evergreen Avenue when all else fails, that lot was nearly always filled on Thursday mornings in pre-stepchild days. Now it’s three-quarters empty at that day and time. Makes me wonder: Where have all these parkers gone? Onto the Avenue, when they could? Or away from the Hill entirely?

Parking kiosks have their place, and it’s Center City and University City – not Chestnut Hill. They are an entirely appropriate alternative to stratospheric-priced lots (one recent parking garage toll for a three-hour evening event near 15th and Locust was $26 – ironically the same cost as a stepchild-generated parking ticket!). On the plus side, a kiosk in University City saved me beaucoup bucks for an evening event on the Penn campus.

Speaking of the $26 parking fine – which I have of late paid twice, each time for a five-minute violation – I learned something I suspect not everyone knows. This is either fact or urban legend (I make no guarantee of veracity): If you have a handicapped tag or display a handicapped placard, even in a non-handicapped meter space or among the stepchildren, the enforcers will cut you some slack.

I didn’t know this gem the first time I got socked. The second time I was tagged – again for five minutes’ overtime – I sent a copy of my placard, which I had NOT displayed on my windshield, with the ticket – but like a dunce, I also paid the fine, with the check marked “paid under protest.” The City wrote me back, saying, in essence, “you could have appealed, but you lost that right when you sent us the check.” (At least, I got an answer from Traffic Court.)

In the immortal words of Charlie Brown, “Argh! Rats!”

Chestnut Hill has mighty competition for its merchants’ goods and services. The 8 percent state sales tax, for one, versus 6 percent in the rest of Pennsylvania, and the zero tax (and often, free shipping) on and elsewhere on the Internet. Need I mention the free parking in nearby malls and at suburban stores and restaurants? In its own self-interest, the Hill should send the green-haired kiosk stepchildren back to the orphanage and – if it must – install street meters at each parking space in its lots, or rethink the whole parking fiasco, for such it has become.

Richard Lee is a semi-retired marketing writer, Local contributor and Certified Curmudgeon. He lives in Flourtown.

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