Should Free Parking Be Illegal?


Las Tablas Entrepreneur Charges $3 for Parking during Dias de Patria

Las Tablas Entrepreneur Charges $3 for Parking during Dias de Patria

In January of 2015, Panama passed a law stating that businesses in shopping malls should provide three hours of free parking.  Being from the States and used to having my potential spending coveted by businesses in suburban shopping malls, I thought this was a fine idea.

However, I seem to be pretty much alone in that opinion here in Panama.  Now, in October and November of this same year, many Panamanian entrepreneurs are shrieking for blood on this subject, insisting that free parking is illegal and demanding the law be repealed.  The  question would be why.

I don’t know for sure, but I suspect it is the use of prime real estate for mere cars which is at the heart of the matter.  But even more, the fact that “somebody” has to pay for that real estate, and that “somebody” is turning out to be both large and small business owners trying to make a living in said shopping malls.

My expertise on shopping malls is limited to shopping in them, but I suspect that in the US and Europe rent in a shopping mall includes a share of the cost of parking lots or parking structures for the customers.  What is happening here in Panama is simply CHANGE, and change is nearly always resisted, wherever it happens.  Before, there were not so many cars and so much congestion, so it was not the problem it has become.

I rememberSan Francisco disc jockeys making jokes on the air in the late ’80’s, announcing (fake) open parking places and the rush to fill them. It was funny, but it wasn’t.  San Francisco built parking structures to solve the problem, and people pay to park in them.  Some business “validate” your parking and pick up the tab for you, and some shopping malls have free parking for limited periods, after which you have to pay, but the bottom line is “somebody” pays.

I remember complaining fairly loudly about it, too, when it was new to me.  But time passes and we get used to anything.  Now, I’m really happy to get free parking in the downtown area of a US city, but I consider it the exception.

Parking in Las Tablas is becoming a problem.  Yet I see vacant lots only a block or two from the downtown area.  One of these days some clever Panamanian is going to realize he can make a buck or two by fencing off the lot and renting spaces.

Then I will have to moan and complain about the change, I guess.