(WBIR - Knoxville) A downtown Knoxville private parking provider's new policy of booting cars who don't prepay for a spot in their lot is catching many parkers off-guard and has some worried it will damage downtown Knoxville's reputation.
According to Central Parking Systems, in April they began booting cars who don't pay, or who overstay their payment. They say the change in policy came because violators rarely paid their tickets.
Last Saturday at the Central Parking Systems lot at the corner of Church and Locust, at least seven drivers came back from visiting the farmers market or local restaurants to find boots on their front and back wheels. Getting them removed costs $75, cash or credit, on the spot.
Knox County commissioner and downtown property owner Ed Shouse says he watched several of the cars get booted within five to 10 minutes of parking.
Shouse says with all the progress downtown Knoxville has made in recent years, he's worried that out-of-towners unfamiliar with downtown will wind up booted.
"I'm horrified to think what they'll say about Knoxville when they go home," said Shouse.
"We spend thousands of dollars to get people to come downtown. And now somebody walks in and gets that on their car, they're not coming back," said Shouse.
No only is he concerned about scaring visitors away, Shouse also said he feels the parking lot's practices are deceptive.
Dexter Dinsmore parked in the Locust Street lot to go to the downtown library. He estimates he was gone less than 15 minutes, and arrived to find he'd been booted.
Dinsmore pointed to the three and half foot high sign stating 'public parking' at the Church Street entrance to the lot.
"I assumed public parking means free. So I just parked, went in, came back and it was there," said Dinsmore.
When 10News brought Dinsmore's attention to the smaller sign sitting several feet away laying out the parking lot's policy in two inch lettering, Dinsmore said he felt misled.
"They can't just say 'public parking' in huge and then just put it in very small print on a different sign 'have to pay,' said Dinsmore. "That just doesn't seem right."
Another booted customer 10News spoke with said he thought the public parking sign, and the fact that it was a Saturday, meant the parking was free as well.
"The big sign that says 'public parking'. It appears, the inference is come here and park free," said Shouse. "It's extremely deceptive.
In response to 10News' inquiry, Central Parking Systems says they intend to replace the sidewalk signs advertising public parking with clearer signage.
However, the Central Parking Systems sign at the Locust St. lot prominently puts the words 'public parking' below the company's name, offering a chance the confusion may continue.
Private Property, Private Business
The City of Knoxville did not wish to comment for this story. However, the city does set laws that regulate how private parking providers can enforce their rules.
According to city laws, businesses are allowed to purchase a permit for $25 allowing them to boot cars. The law also states that they can charge up to $75 to remove them, so long as they have red and white signs with two inch lettering stating the booting policy at every entrance to their parking lot.
Central Parking Systems follows all of these requirements.
The company also says they put the signs up in February alerting customers to their new policy, but did not begin enforcing until April to allow people time to adjust.
Shouse acknowledges what the company is doing is within their rights. Still, he says finds the policy "unconscionable."
"It's corporate gouging," said Shouse.
Dinsmore says he's learned his lesson. He doubts he'll return to the lot. But if he does, he says he'll be sure not to ignore the warning on the red-and-white sign.