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APRIL FOOLS: Subscription parking service comes to town

Fee-based system allows free reign to leave vehicles where ever driver wants.

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APRIL FOOLS -- Troubled with finding a parking space downtown, on St. Armands Circle or pretty much anywhere in town?

Tired of pesky police officers telling you this and that when you’re clearly in a hurry?

Frustrated by the operation of those silly machines alongside the curb or those bothersome citations?

Has the city got a deal for you. Membership in SRQiPark entitles drivers to ditch their cars anywhere they like with no regard for fire hydrants, loading zones, disabled-reserved spaces or even common sense.

“It’s like a valet service, but without the valet,’’ said charter member Wilfred Fullpockets. “Imagine what our friends will say when we pull up to the opera and just leave Mr. Benz right in front. No searching for a space, no mingling with grimy  Toyotissans or Mazdmobiles. And no expectation of a gratuity.’’

Launched in 2019 in Atlanta, Charlotte, Nashville and Indianapolis, the subscription-based parking service is expanding in 2021 to four Florida cities: Sarasota, Orlando, Naples and Palm Beach.

For an initiation fee of $5,000 and monthly dues of $250, a car owner receives a non-transferable mirror tag identifying that vehicle as one enrolled in the program.  In partnership with iPark, the host city receives the entire initiation fee and 33% of monthly dues paid by members. Sarasota’s agreement with the company follows the same model.

“We launched in Atlanta during a particularly grid-locked period, when private parking lots were charging nearly what we charge a month, for access to one space. Basically an eight foot by 16 foot space,’’ said iPark chief executive Isaac Park. “We brought our idea to city leaders with the thought they would laugh us out of City Hall, but they loved it. We offer the entire city, not just two yellow lines and a concrete block.”

Sarasota leaders said the revenue expectations are hard to initially gauge, but $4 million is a reasonable starting point. “For that, we can afford to have a few hundred cars parked willy-nilly around the city,’’ said the Sarasota public-private liaison Mica Itwork. “We traveled to some of the city’s iPark is active in and we hardly ever found someone really taking advantage of the system. Police said it allows them to focus on real law-enforcement and not worry about parking tickets.’’

Itwork said the decision to offer the service was far easier than choosing an electric scooter rental company or a community bike service. “Those were seen as, well, kind of lefty,’’ he said. “Nothing screams capitalism and freedom like leaving your German luxury car where ever you please.’’

Members of Sarasota’s downtown condominium associations were presented with promotional information on SRQiPark in February in concert with a direct-mail campaign aimed at patrons of the city’s arts organizations.

Membership is at 500 vehicles now, with an expectation of more signups as COVID-19 vaccinations prompt more and more residents to resume social activities.

The biggest losers in the plan, aside from everyday drivers attempting to weave around ill-parked Mercedes, BMWs and Bentleys, are the city’s valet drivers.

Though not formally organized, valets were scheduled to appear at a city commission meeting recently to voice their displeasure, but the group missed the 2 p.m. agenda item when they couldn’t find a place to park.