FREE PARKING! (sort of)

Weeknights after 6 p.m. and all day on weekends at all City of Knoxville Garages

The City of Knoxville advertises free parking after 6 p.m. on weekdays in its four publicly-owned downtown garages—the Market Square, State Street, Main Street, and Locust Street Garages. This sounds nice. However, the actual experiences of several Metro Pulse employees do not jibe with a literal interpretation of the text, i.e. that parking becomes free at 6 p.m. Indeed, many of us often find ourselves having to wait until 7 p.m. before we can de-park without charge. This apparent inconsistency compelled us to ask for an explanation. For that, we called Republic Parking, a Chattanooga-based parking garage company that has a contract with the city to manage its downtown garages. What follows is the transcript of a phone conversation between myself and Jamichael McGoy, Republic's general manager for its Knoxville interests.

MP: [On Hold.]

Very Cheery Voice Backed By Inspirational Acoustic Guitar-Piano Combo: We appreciate your patience while waiting! We assure you that assistance is just a moment away! Your call is very important to us, and we look forward to speaking with YOU! [Goes WAY up on "You"]

JM: This is Jamichael.

MP: Hi Jamichael. This is Charles Maldonado from the Metro Pulse. How are you doing today?

JM: Well, yourself?

MP: Good, good. We're working on a, sort of, what we're calling an "Insider's Guide to Knoxville" and I'm doing a portion of it dealing with good deals on downtown parking. You're the general manager of the local Republic office?

JM: Yes.

MP: Republic manages all three city-owned parking garages downtown, right?

JM: Well, four, yes.

MP: Four? I have Market Square, State Street, and Locust Street. Which one am I forgetting?

JM: Main Street Garage, Bank of America.

MP: Parking in city-owned garages is free after six and all day on weekends. That seems like a pretty good deal.

JM: That's probably the best deal in the country.

MP: All right. Now let me ask you. That 6 p.m., is that Central Time?

JM: It's, uh, Eastern Time.

MP: Okay, I ask because as somebody who works downtown, I regularly park at the State Street Garage, and sometimes I—

JM: Hold on, hold on. I think I know what you're getting at. This is about them still charging at seven.

MP: Yeah.

JM: Well, it's free entry after six. If you come in after six it's free, but you can't come in at six o'clock in the morning, stay all day, and then leave after six. It's not going to be free.

MP: Okay, well, it does say free parking after six. That would seem to imply that parking becomes free after six.

JM: It's free parking if you enter the garages after six.

MP: Don't you think that maybe should be included in the sign?

JM: That's the way it's been worded, but it's free if you enter the garages after six.

MP: I understand that, but doesn't that sign seem a tad misleading.

JM: No.

MP: No?

JM: Would you expect to pull into the garage at six o'clock in the morning and leave at 6:01 and park all day for free?

MP: I'm not really arguing the ethics of it.

JM: That's just very dishonest.

MP: I know. I'm not really so much arguing the ethics of it as I am just talking about the wording on that sign. It seems like there should be a qualifier there that says, "If you park after six" or "People who park here all day will be charged until seven."

JM: Right, right.

MP: Has anybody pointed that out or made that complaint to you?

JM: This is the first I've heard it.

MP: Really? You said you knew what I was getting at though.

JM: Because you started talking about Central Time.

MP: Right. Have you ever considered maybe putting a new sign up that would be more clear about that rule?

JM: It's really not up to me.

[McGoy directs me to Steve Cheatham, parking manager for the Knoxville Public Building Authority.]

MP: As you know the city advertises free public parking in downtown garages after six, but Republic's policy seems to be to charge people who parked there before six until seven. Has the city ever considered putting up more clearly worded signs?

SC: Not to my knowledge. I mean it clearly states that for anyone entering the garage after 6 p.m., it's free parking.

MP: Well, the exact wording is "Free parking"—

SC: Free parking after six.

MP: Yeah, it doesn't actually say that if you had been parked there before six, you will be charged later. The sign, I think, implies that parking becomes free at six.

SC: Okay?

MP: So, is that misleading?

SC: Depending on how you read the sign, it may be, but we have not had a mass problem with people saying that it is.

MP: Have you received any complaints?

SC: Not to my knowledge. I mean, when we first actually implemented the program, there were a few people, but I guess most people who park there in the garage know what the policy is. So, we haven't had any major complaints, but if you want to speak with someone with the city as far as actually re-wording the sign, that would probably be their call.

MP: Don't you work for the city?

SC: I actually manage the garages for the city.

MP: So, it would be at least in part your call.

SC: I can make a recommendation.

MP: But you've never talked about doing that?

SC: Like I said, we have not fielded a lot of complaints pertaining to it.

MP: The policy as dictated to me by Mr. McGoy seems to me to be based mostly on ethics, on honesty, that it would be dishonest to park there all day and get free parking at 6:01. Do you agree with that assessment?

SC: Not necessarily dishonest, just the fact that that is the policy. The policy is that anyone entering the garage after 6 p.m. gets free parking.

MP: Sure.

SC: The policy is that if someone comes in at 6:01 and they leave while the attendant's still there, within the hour, that's free parking they will not be charged. But if someone comes in the garage at noon, and they leave after six and the attendant's still there, they'll be charged.

MP: To get back to the initial point, just in your opinion, the sign CLEARLY represents that policy.

SC: As far as free parking after 6 p.m., yes sir.

MP: Well, how about as far as charging until 7 p.m. if you were parked there before 6 p.m.?

SC: I'm not seeing what you're saying because, like I said, if you read the sign, to me the sign states "Free parking after six."

MP: Right, but does it clearly state that you will be charged until 7 p.m.?

SC: At some locations, the attendant might stay there later than seven. So, for us to have different signs in different garages when we're trying to implement the same policy wouldn't make a lot of sense. To tell people, "At this garage, the attendant will stay until seven, at this garage he'll stay until six." Like I said, we haven't received any complaints. Have you received any?

MP: I haven't received any "here's a story tip" type complaints about it, but I do hear people talk about it quite a bit.

SC: I've been parking manager for four-and-a-half, almost five, years, and when the official policy was implemented, we did hear some complaints. But in the last few years, I have not heard a lot of people complaining, going to the city, or coming to me about the free parking.

MP: Okay, well that's all I needed to talk about. Thank you very much.

SC: Thank you.