The Downtown Parking Commission has recommended a contract with the nationwide company Standard Parking to implement and oversee the system. Under the proposal, motorists would pay $1 per hour (or 25 cents for 15 minutes) for streetside parking on the Square and several nearby blocks, while public lots would remain free, in an attempt to steer downtown workers and other long-term users toward off-street parking options.
"The goal is not to collect revenue," said commission member Ron Hipp. "The goal is to manage parking."
Most of those who spoke at a public hearing on the issue last month voiced opposition.
"The public is not in favor of this. I have heard from no one saying they're in favor of it, but I've heard from several who are against it," said Ward 3 Alderwoman Janice Antonow. "They say it's going to change the character of Oxford; it's going to look bad; kids can't afford it."
Mayor Pat Patterson said one fear - that every trip downtown will require a parking fee - is unfounded.
"This time, the key has been, we're not doing away with free parking," he said.
Hipp said he's heard complaints would hurt businesses dependent on spur-of-the-moment customers such as YaYa's yogurt shop but noted free parking is only a short block away in two directions.
"Anybody who can afford YaYa's can afford to pay a dollar for parking," joked Alderman-at-Large John Morgan.
Parking Commission member Tom Sharpe said the biggest obstacle is simply that paid parking "is an abrupt change."
"When they see the benefit that comes from that, I think they will adjust their feelings and realize this isn't such a bad thing after all," he said.