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Valet Parking; An Issue Addressed by Other Cities but Ignored by St. Louis

valet - 1Valet parking continues to be a problem in the City of St. Louis. Along Washington Avenue, Locust, Lindell (near Compton), Mississippi and on Euclid valet companies are abusing permits issues by the street department. These firms, predominantly Midwest Valet, are pushing the envelop to the point where they are killing the street life in areas where they operate. For example, on Washington Avenue across from Lucas Park Grille they routinely take 4-6 parking spaces which are held until a nice car comes along. This happens despite the permit indicating they use of the spaces is strictly for bringing cars in and out — that cars must be moved to private parking spaces immediately.

The problem we have is the street department is really ill-equiped to address this issue. The city has no valet parking ordinance so streets director Jim Suelmann is basically winging it by issuing these permits. While I appreciate him trying to make due it is really no way to run a city and certainly not a way to deal with an issue that could potentially harm emerging districts. His response to me with respect to violations has been to call the police. I think the police have more important things to spend their time on than trying to keep valet companies from violating weak permits. The Board of Aldermen needs to pass a comprehensive ordinance regarding valet parking.

I did some quick research and found this issue front and center in many cities struggling with overly aggressive valet companies attempting to take over their streets and public parking spaces:


From the City of Miami Parking Authority web page:

The City of Miami, in conjunction with the Miami Parking Authority, established a new Valet Ordinance in October, 2004. This ordinance covers the operation of all permanent valet stands within the City of Miami established for restaurants and shopping centers, as well as those created for special events and other one time uses. Operators are now required to submit a formal application that is reviewed by various City Departments, and is administered and reviewed by the Miami Parking Authority.

The actual ordinance (pdf) includes a number of things worthy of consideration for St. Louis. First, they must submit a site plan showing where they will have the drop-off area as well as their desk and key holder. In addition they must show proof of having sufficient off-street parking for all vehicles — on-street parking is prohibited.

They address the issue of “ramping” — the drop-off and pick-up of vehicles:

The public on-street/curbside parking spaces, metered or non-metered, shall only be used for ramping of vehicles. Ramping of vehicles shall consist of allowing the customer to enter or exit a vehicle and to turn it over to or retrieve it from a valet parking operator employee. Ramping shall only be permitted and operated in the public on-street/curbside spaces provided by the department for ramping. There shall be no storage of vehicles in the area used for ramping. A vehicle will be considered stored if it remains in the ramping area for more than ten (10) minutes. Ramping spaces shall not be blocked by any type of sign, structure or other type of object. These spaces shall not be cordoned off by any type of signage, rope or barrier of any kind;

The give the valet company the use of 60 feet (roughly 3 spaces) to perform this operation. This leaves the remaining spaces free for the general public.

Scottsdale, AZ:

The City of Scottsdale recently held an open house to train local valet companies on their new valet ordinance. Their website on valet parking includes a link to the actual ordinance (20 pages) and the application materials (10 pages). Here is how Scottsdale defines the valet parking zone:

The valet parking zone shall be no less than sixty (60) feet in length. The valet parking zone shall be no less than ten (10) feet and no more than twenty (20) feet in width. A valet parking
zone located on Scottsdale Road shall be no less than twelve (12) feet and no more than twenty (20) feet in width. The valet parking zone shall not be located:

(a) Closer than thirty (30) feet to the intersection of any two (2) or more streets;

(b) On any of the roads identified as unavailable on the map specified in section 16-573; or

(c) Within one hundred (100) feet of another valet parking zone which is on the same
side of the street.

Cambridge, MA:

The City of CAmbridge doesn’t waste a lot of words, their short and sweet valet parking page gives you the basics. Here is a bit of their provisions:

E. If there is a parking meter (s) at the valet space (s) the applicant will be responsible for covering the parking meter (s) during the hours of valet operation. The bag used to cover the meter (s) shall be approved by the Director.

F. The cost for valet space shall be $20.00 per year per foot of curb required to operate the service safely between 6 P.M. and midnight on the days required.

G. No charge shall be assessed for the use of this valet service on the public way.

So, a 60 foot space would cost $1,200 per year. Taking 10 spaces, as some of these companies in St. Louis are doing, would cost $4,000 per year. What is interesting is they specifically indicate no fee “shall be assessed” if the valet is operating in the public right of way. This makes sense if you are going to take away public parking spaces you should not be profiting but instead be providing a service.

Palm Desert, CA:

All of these provisions, including the City of Palm Desert, talk about violations and consequences:

Routine inspections and field observations will be conducted by Public Works and/or Code enforcement staff to insure compliance with the regulations set forth to apply to valet parking
permit tees. Violations found will be recorded for reevaluation and possible revocation of the permit.

Others mentioned above go into detail about fines for non-compliance. I like the idea of checking to ensure that permits are being followed. Imagine the building department issuing a building permit but then not performing inspections to ensure it was followed. If the street department is going to issue valet permits they need to be able to inspect for compliance.

Austin, TX:

The City of Austin has a pretty detailed ordinance covering most of the basics, it can be read on pages 123-133 of this PDF document.

Other Cities:

From an article on valet parking from White Plains NY:

In Boston, time limits on how long a vehicle can be parked waiting to be parked are set. Beantown requires records to be maintained for each car parked; permits are issued for one year, and renewable. As of November, 2003, Boston charged $40 per linear foot of curb space used for the permit, and $150 per sign for a five year period.

For example if one parking space was 20 feet long and “Cheers” used 10 spaces for their “holding queue” the fee would be $8,000 a year. Plus the restaurant and business would have to pay the establishment where they were parking the cars if they did not have their own lot or were using a city lot.

Reading Boston’s valet parking permit regulations indicates White Plains has to look at creating valet parking areas where the cars are eventually parked; perhaps consider shared valet parking zones, and insurance issues. Boston does not allow parking at street meters.

When Palo Alto enacted a Valet Parking ordinance in 1999, the fees were similar to Boston’s: $450 permit application, $74 annual permit renewal; $220 short-term permit; $35 per space per week for on-street parking spaces (for the valet parking zone); $150 per valet parking sign fee and a $30 penalty for unauthorized parking in on-street valet parking spaces.

When Santa Monica was drawing up their ordinance in 2001, they recommended $1,750 per valet location, and a space use fee of .50 per hour of valet operation annualized upfront. Santa Monica projected a $50,000 revenue from the 17 operations expected, and that was 5 years ago. They also opted for a uniform rate, so motorists could not congest traffic by “shopping” for the least expensive valet rate.

In Houston, valet parking regs were enacted in 2003. Businesses there must apply for a valet zone permit for $100 a year. Valet companies in that city which operate the valet parking for businesses that offer it must pay $1,000 the first year and $750 each additional year. Houston also requires the valet companies operating the nightly drop-offs and returns to maintain liability coverage of a minimum of $300,000, and perform a criminal background check on their “Kookies.” (Remember Edd Byrnes as the Parkboy on 77 Sunset Strip?)

In the mile-high city of Denver, they have a most specific ordinance which can be read at www.denvergov.org/parking_Management/template311681.asp. The ordinance allows the valet offering establishment two meter spaces (40 feet) for their valet zone included in the excise and license application fees. And Additional meter spaces for more than a 40 foot zone are purchasable for the annual meter time request for one year upfront about $2,500 back in 2001 when the ordinance was enacted. This is in addition to the fees the establishment will have to pay for the private parking area where the cars will eventually be parked.

The issues are many: hours of operation; method of operation; how much of the street is given over; insurance; who parks the cars; where they are parked; the routes the cars take to and from the valet zone; signage; licensing fees; and potential revenue and enforcement penalties for violations.

The City of Denver has a very nice 2-page summary of their ordinance. This helps the public and the operators know what to do and expect without having to read through a lengthy ordinance written in legalese.

valet - 2Clearly this is an issue that cities all over the country have faced and addressed. I’ve been writing about valet parking abuses in St. Louis since February yet I’ve not seen any new or proposed ordinance coming out of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen. I volunteered my time to assist the city streets department in drafting some guidelines for valet parking but I was given the brush off.

Along Washington Avenue the valet parking woes are spread across three wards in a three block area! The 1100 block of Washington where Copia takes nearly 300ft for car parking is located in the 7th Ward (Phyllis Young). The 1200 block where Lucas Park Grille and a club take up a considerable percentage of the block is located in the 5th Ward (April Ford-Griffin) and finally the 1300 block where Lucas Park Grille spills over as well as the bar/club in the 1400 block is located in the 6th Ward (Lewis Reed). Other abuses in the 6th Ward include valets at 1111 Mississippi. On Olive on either side of Compton you get valets doing things such as placing orange cones in the bike lanes. One side of Compton on the south side of Olive is Reed’s 6th Ward while the west side of Compton along Lindell is in the 19th Ward (Mike McMillan). Heading west to the West End things are more clear — Euclid and Maryland is squarely in the 28th Ward (Lyda Krewson).

Our aldermen, in my view, don’t think much beyond their ward boundaries so the idea of them working together on a city-wide solution just might be a bit too much to expect. Other cities, somehow, manage to get beyond ward boundaries and develop solutions for their entire city.


Currently there are "14 comments" on this Article:

  1. Douglas Duckworth says:

    Next to the occasional panhandler this is the biggest problem downtown. I am ready to simply remove the cones and park my Buick. It is completely wrong for a restaurant to take an entire block for private parking on a public street. Are they paying the City a extra fee to rent said public space?

  2. DB says:

    Is this legal? Has it been tested in court? Perhaps someone (the above poster perhaps) needs to challenge this. Any attorney’s reading this?

  3. Chris says:

    Has anyone asked their alderman to address this? It’s not an issue until constituents start bringing it up.

    [UR – Good question. First, things can be an issue even if not mentioned directly to your own alderman. This site is well read by many in local government so they are well aware of my brining up this issue. I’ve emailed directly with the director of streets. The folks down at the Downtown Partnership are also aware.

    Ald. Krewson has indicated to me she is looking into the issue out of concerns raised at Euclid & Maryland.

  4. KZ says:

    I’ve always wondered what would happen if someone just removed one of the cones and parked their car there. Would that be in violation of any law? It would seem to be a way to make a statement.

  5. Urban Reader says:

    I would like to see one of those muscled valet drivers try coning off the parking space in front of one my old-lady neighbor’s houses…

    There’d be a speed-dial call to an alderman if that ever happened.

    Why downtown is any different, I don’t know.

  6. DB says:

    Maybe we should all pick a Saturday and take all the spots in front of Copia before the cones go up, and just stay parked there the whole night.

    [URUR – That is along the lines of what I was thinking. Although, in my concept the news crews might have a fun story. I say we pick a Friday or Saturday night and show up in front of one of these locations with protest signs reading things like, “We paid for these parking spaces,” or “These spaces are for the general public, not just customers of ____”]

  7. equals42 says:

    I understand there is a balance to strike here between the development of businesses in Downtown and the public’s right to public parking. What I can’t understand is why surrounding businesses don’t make a flap about it. I wanted to park on Washington once to go to Rue 13, but found I couldn’t use the majority of two blocks thanks to Lucas Park.

  8. bab says:

    count me in for any “take back the meters” event!

  9. Jim Zavist says:

    Valet parking, especially in popular urban areas, is like kudzu. If you don’t nip it in the bud, it tends to take over everything . . .

    Bottom line, these are PUBLIC streets, not an extension of the adjacent business. The use of public property for private gain is a privlege that the city needs to allocate sparingly!

  10. A says:

    It’s also frustrating when the the cones take up the bike lane, forcing me to cut into traffic on my way home– every Friday and Saturday night on Olive in at least two places.

  11. LisaS says:

    If you take out the cones, they hassle you. Of course, the only time I’ve done that is in front of my own home …

  12. Adam says:

    i’m up for a valet protest too, but maybe some general “demands” should be written up before doing it?

  13. DB says:

    A few points:

    1) If something is blocking the bike lane, you are well within your rights to stop and remove that “something”. And tossing it 20 yards is OK.

    2) No “demands”. If you tipped them off, they might be out there early to put up the cones.

  14. Jim Zavist says:

    One Denver observation (in the be careful what you ask for area) – parking meters are enforced until 10 pm in LoDo, where the bulk of the valet parking issues occur, so with Parking Management people on the streets, it’s a lot easier to “keep the pressure on” and make sure everyone plays by the rules . . .


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