Parking at Lambert-Saint Louis International Airport (STL) can get expensive. Depending on the lot, the airport will charge anywhere from $7 to $23 dollars a day. The prospect of paying so much for airport parking is one reason why many of us will take a cab instead. But expensive parking isn’t a problem for the region’s taxicab regulators, nearly all of whom get free airport parking.
And taxicab commissioners aren’t the only ones. Last week, the Post-Dispatch reported that scores of current and former officials get free parking at Lambert, including former airport commissioners, elected officials, police brass, and industry representatives. According to Lambert Director Rhonda Hamm-Niebruegge, the free parking is a “courtesy.” However, the selective nature of this courtesy leaves open a number of questions. For instance, why honor the mayors of only three Saint Louis County cities? Why give a courtesy to one specific partner from an area law firm? Why do many taxicab commissioners receive free parking? Perhaps there are reasonable answers to these questions (among others), but left unexplained it looks just like another unjustified perk for political insiders.
To its credit, STL officials are planning on phasing out the free parking passes. But parking privilege is not just confined to Saint Louis’s airport. Last year, a city-commissioned parking study (performed to decide where new parking meters should go) found that the city allows any individual employed by the city or county, regardless of their position, to park for free at any metered spot. The city has no comprehensive list of authorized outstanding permits or rules determining which departments and which vehicles are eligible for permits. The study’s authors recommended limiting such permits to positions that require quick access to vehicles (like police officers or emergency response vehicles). Unfortunately, while the city is already well into the process of installing new meters to charge residents, the employee on-street parking policy has not been revised or even reviewed.
Most people understand that free parking is not a right. But it should not be a privilege either, handed out on an ad-hoc basis to entrenched civic insiders.
By the way, the one member of the Taxicab Commission who does not enjoy free airport parking is Chris Sommers. He is also the only member of the Commission who vocally supports ridesharing in Saint Louis. Go figure.