In response to a growing budget deficit, the city of New Orleans has stepped up its parking enforcement efforts. The city recently designated new parking spaces near the Superdome – only to post No Parking signs and ticket offenders. Mayor Ray Nagin has proposed installing more meters around the city and expanding the hours and days for metered parking. And the city has gone on an aggressive ticket-writing spree, most notably at the Turkey Day race at City Park.

This is the wrong approach.

Parking regulations exist for the benefit of the general public. These rules are useful because they provide access to emergency vehicles, facilitate commercial activity, and encourage turnover in crowded downtown areas.

Enforcing these regulations may generate revenue for local government, but elected officials should never lose sight of the fact that the revenue is lagniappe. The real benefit of properly enforced parking rules is a functioning city, a benefit that all citizens enjoy.

The aggressive ticketing and new meters do nothing to make the city function more smoothly. The city is not solving a problem, just treating residents and visitors as ATMs. The good will of locals and tourists cannot be measured in dollars and cents, but in the long run they are worth far more than a $75 fine.

While some may view this as a minor issue, the casual abuse of power can have lasting consequences. At the very least, it fosters contempt for elected officials and city employees. With this in mind, the mayoral candidates should address quality of life issues like parking enforcement and explain why they do or do not support the city’s current approach.

Manipulating parking regulations to generate revenue rather than to facilitate an efficient city is a practice that promotes cynicism. If the next mayor wants to be a transformative figure, changing the approach to something as simple as parking tickets is a step in the right direction.