Editorial

City proposal to start its own business is a waste of taxpayer dollars

September 11, 2015
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The Grand Rapids Parking Commission is poised to recommend city commissioners launch into a business partnership to provide car sharing.

The Business Journal wholly supports entrepreneurs and business owners throughout this region, including support for Uber while city leaders pondered its expulsion, but the Business Journal will not support the city — or any government body — launching a business paid for by taxpayers.  The proposed agreement being recommended by the city parking commission would have the city pay a car rental company to establish a car-share program through the parking services department.

A self-sustaining business fills a market demand for its goods or services. The city doesn’t even have a waiting list for car-share riders. Add to this equation that no professional car-sharing private entity has entered the market, fully telling the city why not. Private car rental businesses showed no or not enough market demand in the downtown to sustain an operation, so the city is proposing to pay the company to do so, all at city taxpayer expense, with no business risk to any but taxpayers.

Car sharing is not a city problem. The city does have a problem it refuses to acknowledge despite great demand: parking. According to census data posted in 2011, 61,580 people commuted into 49503 for work — and all of them pay city income taxes. They did not ride their bikes. Those numbers have continued to grow the last four years. The parking commission recommends the city enter agreements for 10 ride-share cars. The number of households within the 49503 zip code totals 14,677. That is the reality.

The Business Journal called attention to the hoax of GR Forward recommendations for long-term city planning (including hiring new city employees to “supervise” car- and bike-sharing plans) in July. Building owners, managers and developers in downtown have indicated to the Business Journal they have never been included in any of the purported studies.

Sherwood Financial President and X Ventures Principal Bill Bowling wrote to the Business Journal: “A business that has its employees come in and sit in front of a computer and phone all day can get by with parking off-site and busing in and busing out once a day. But a lawyer, banker, CPA, salesman or any business employee who comes and goes — some several times a day — needs relatively close parking. I fear that while bike paths, walking trails and buses are all great pluses for our city, we can’t continue to expand them at the expense of our ‘core business community’ and not expect to pay the piper down the road.”

The implication is clear in the downtown business community: Parking clearly is frustrating at best, and without some accommodation it is reason to consider relocation — and in so doing will eliminate the city income tax from employees’ paychecks and the cost of parking altogether.

It is bewildering to consider why taxpayers are putting additional funds into street repairs if the city intends to limit vehicle use and establish barriers to access in the downtown.

It is foolhardy for city commissioners Dave Schaffer, Walt Gutowski, Senita Lenear, Ruth Kelly, Ellias Lumpkins Jr. and Rosalynn Bliss to start their own business at taxpayer expense.

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