Cossandra Crum strolls past Lucy’s Corner Cafe at Broadway and Sixth Street with a spring in her step, her hands tapping a mechanical printer slung over her shoulder to a beat only she knows.
Crum, a city parking enforcement agent, sometimes dances when she’s walking her beat.
Her doctor doesn’t like that, she says. She had her right knee replaced five years ago and her doctor wants to do the left one soon.
“That’s from getting in and out of cars and walking around all day on concrete,” she says. She has worked for the parking utility since 1988 and has been in enforcement since 1990.
A single mother, she put both her daughters, now in their 30s, through college in that job. Now she has five grandchildren.
She tries to keep it light, getting to know delivery workers and shopkeepers.
“Come on out!” she hollers through the glass at Lucy’s, arms beckoning, adorned in a neon yellow traffic vest. Three men in aprons stream out of the kitchen with coins in hand and feed their meters with just enough time for Crum to disappear around the corner before it expires.
Fines jumped from $10 to $15 on parking violations effective Oct. 1, and enforcement hours will expand from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the start of 2015.
City officials see those changes as another policy shift to help Columbia’s transition from Midwestern college-town to metropolis. The city’s population has grown by 36 percent from 2000 to 2013, according to census data, and more people mean more cars, said Second Ward Councilman Michael Trapp. The expanded meter time was Trapp’s proposal, as recommended by the city’s parking task force in 2013.
“As we become a larger city, we start comparing ourselves to larger cities so what we consider reasonable has grown,” Trapp said. “For folks who come from larger cities, Columbia parking seems very cheap. Our rates are very reasonable, but not as reasonable as they used to be.”
Meter rates are 50 cents an hour in city parking garages, 60 cents an hour at on-street meters and 75 cents an hour at on-street meters close to the University of Missouri campus.
Leaders are struggling to reconcile the Columbia that longtime residents know to be quieter and less crowded, with busy, rapidly expanding Columbia; and where people park their cars — and how much they pay to do it — is an indicator of the city’s changing character.
Since 2012, when parking supervisor Tanner Morrell began his post, the city has erected two new public garages, instituted pay-by-phone options at many downtown meters and upgraded ticket issuance software.
“We’re trying to meet the demand,” Morrell said.
And as Columbia changes, the nature of that demand changes, said Trapp. Columbia has 36 percent more people between the ages of 20 and 44 today than it did in 2000.
“There’s definitely a demand to create more parking as our population grows,” Trapp said. “We only have one downtown and people want to go there.”
Changing parking policy, just like any other civil service, said Downtown Community Improvement District board member Michael McClung, can guide that demand.
“Parking is managing parts, not people,” he said. “It’s asking, ‘What are the people doing now and how can parking be appropriate for them?’ Parking isn’t proactive of who might use downtown, but it is saying, ‘This is what’s going on downtown. Let’s cater to that.’ ”
Increasingly that means catering to a burgeoning student population, Trapp said.
Crum might hand out 100 to 150 tickets on a given day, she estimates, and a third of them end up going to students. She can tell by the tags that hang on rearview mirrors and backpacks with textbooks lying in backseats. Plus, more students live in downtown Columbia, with development humming.
Trapp said there’s a conscious effort on the part of city planners to increase population density downtown. If students live downtown, he said, it’s easier for them to walk or take public transportation than drive their own cars, which can ease the downtown parking crunch.
Crum says she hasn’t become more lenient with violations as leaders continue to change parking policy, but she tries to be more friendly.
“See, these are city workers,” she says approaching a Nissan and Toyota during the lunch hour. “I know these people. They work in human resources. They could park in the garage, but they’re out here instead.”
She rhythmically taps her city-issued Samsung Galaxy Note 2 to enter the violation and shoves a yellow citation envelope under both cars’ windshield wipers.
“I see these people every day,” she says.