By Roger Croteau
SAN MARCOS — With downtown business owners complaining that college students too often occupy all available street parking, the city has raised its parking fines by as much as 750 percent, effective this week.
“ When school is in session there is no parking,” said Kevin Ryan, manager of Showdown, a downtown bar. “Our customers can’t get in. Every car out there has an SWT (Southwest Texas State University) student sticker on it.”
The City Council had students in mind when it crafted the new fine schedule. Depending on location, drivers still can park free in downtown for one or two hours. But the fine for parking overtime has quadrupled — from $5 to $20.
Fines for double parking, blocking alleys and other violations also were increased. The largest increase comes for parking in a handicapped spot. The $40 fine is now $250.
Much of the SWT campus, soon to be Texas State University-San Marcos after a name change becomes effective Sept. 1, is within easy walking distance of the city’s courthouse square. Most designated student parking however is on the far side of the campus, near the football stadium.
“ There is not a lot of space for student parking on campus,” said SWT senior Glenn Barnhardt, who said he’s racked up about 10 parking tickets per semester.
“ There are only two lots for commuters and they are near the stadium, so then you have to take a shuttle bus to class,” he said. “If people are running late for class and they don’t have time to do that, they just say, ‘Forget it, I’ll pay the $5 fine and be on time.’”
Barnhardt expects significantly higher fines likely will end that practice.
SWT spokesman Mark Hendricks said the school has addressed the parking issue and added several hundred new spaces, including a new level to a parking garage.
City officials hope a new fine schedule will be a deterrent to parking violators.
“ Illegal parking is a big problem in San Marcos,” said Chris Gerstner, the city’s parking coordinator. “We are hoping that with the fine increases, the number of illegally parked vehicles will decrease and that vehicles in timed parking spaces will not exceed the timed limit.”
The change should be helpful to businesses, said Michael Matott, owner of Mad Dog Curios. He also praised the city for a plan to convert a metered parking lot near the square into rental spaces for business owners and employees.
Matott’s business, like most, doesn’t have its own off-street parking. City parking enforcement officers walk by and mark the tires of cars, returning later to issue tickets if the tires still show the chalk mark. After the officers have passed, shop owners and employees spill into the streets and swap spaces to avoid a ticket.
But SWT junior Lauren Heatley said the increases are not fair and could backfire.
“ If we spend all our money on tickets we won’t have any to spend in their stores,” she said. “They shouldn’t complain about students parking on the street because they wouldn’t have a business without the 25,000 students at the school.”