Pubdate: Sun, 17 Jun 2007
Source: Chronicle Herald (CN NS)
Copyright: 2007 The Halifax Herald Limited
Author: Silver Donald Cameron


OUT IN FRONT of J.T.'s office are four parking meters with their 
heads clipped off. No need to fumble for coins -- the parking is 
free. And the amusing thing, says J.T., is that the decapitated 
meters are just two blocks from the main police station.

J.T., whoever he is, was commenting on a Globe and Mail account of a 
rash of assaults on parking meters in Victoria, where he lives. The 
city has 1,900 meters, and in the past year nearly 500 have been 
damaged or stolen. Currently 200 meters are out of commission. The 
baddies pry off the heads with crowbars or cut them off with 
hacksaws. A more sophisticated (and prosperous) thief stole one 
meter, filed down a key until it fit the lock, and then went around 
the neighbourhood using his key to open and empty dozens of other meters.

The perpetrators are drug addicts, about 12 to 18 of them, and the 
cops know exactly who they are. Stopping them, however, is another 
matter. Six have been arrested, convicted of theft under $5,000, and 
released back to the street, where they picked up their crowbars and 
hacksaws again.

Two aspects of this story caught my attention. First, it provides the 
first glimpse I've ever had of the economics of parking -- though I 
did know that one of the world's largest manufacturers of parking 
meters is right here in Nova Scotia: Mackay Meters of New Glasgow, 
which just got an order from New York City for 30,000 meters.

How much money do parking meters take in? Well, Victoria's 1,900 
meters pull in about $4,000 a day, or $2.10 per meter. Assuming the 
weekend take is minimal, that works out to about $10 per five-day 
week, or $520 a year. A parking meter costs $730, so a return of $520 
represents a whopping 71 per cent. Victoria's 1,900 meters, which 
would cost about $1.4 million to buy, must gross nearly a million 
dollars annually.

A nice little business, but the bandits are denting it badly. Fixing 
or replacing 500 meters would cost about $345,000. That's roughly a 
third of the annual income. And if 200 are out of service at any one 
time, the revenue drops by about 10 per cent, or $100,000 a year.

The solution says Mayor Alan Lowe, is "pay and display" machines, 
heavily built of stainless steel and titanium, which allow motorists 
to pre-pay, using a credit card if they wish and leaving a receipt on 
their dashboard. But the city would need about 300 such machines, at 
$15,000 to $20,000 a throw, totalling $5 million. A million-dollar 
return on that investment is only about 20 per cent -- and that's 
before maintenance, administration, collection and enforcement.

All of which leads some citizens to say, Why not abolish the meters? 
If the objective is to regulate parking rather than to make money, 
why endure all these complications for a minimal reward? Why not just 
use time limits, and enforce them vigorously?

What a lovely thought. What a noble blow in favour of simplifying our lives.

The second striking aspect of the story is its demonstration, yet 
again, of the deplorable effects of our foolish drug laws, which are 
the driving force behind these and many other minor crimes. When will 
we grasp that denouncing and forbidding simply doesn't work? Yes, 
many of the ravaged souls who become addicted are thoroughly 
difficult people. Yes, the use of drugs is undesirable. But we are 
not living in a world populated by Boy Scouts and angels. People will 
use drugs no matter how hard we frown. I personally favour alcohol, a 
treacherous drug which has fortunately been decriminalized.

By closing off all legal sources of supply for other drugs we simply 
ensure that a very lucrative business will remain in the hands of 
thugs and predators both here and abroad. We also ensure that the 
price to addicts will be high, and the quality uncertain. The high 
prices create billows of secondary crime, as desperate addicts snatch 
whatever they can in order to pay whatever the criminals demand.

There are better ways, as shown by the Dutch and the Swiss, whose 
policies are based on the concept of harm reduction. Broadly 
speaking, their policies have three aims: to decrease the use of 
drugs and of drug dependency; to help users overcome their addiction; 
and to improve the living conditions and health of users and addicts 
and to maintain their integration in society -- for example, by 
providing heroin addicts with maintenance doses of heroin or methadone.

In both countries, the sale and use of marijuana is technically 
illegal, but, as is often the case in Canada, the authorities simply ignore it.

Both countries still have drug problems, but the problems have become 
manageable, and they are being managed. And nobody in either country 
is beheading the local parking meters.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom