Five years ago public parking in downtown Lexington was a mess.
It was hard to find a space and parking structures were poorly maintained. The job of writing tickets fell to police officers, which they only did when they didn't have anything better to do, which wasn't often. The city handled collections but that also was a low priority so barely half of tickets written were ever paid.
The small amount of money collected went into the city's general fund and so wasn't designated for maintaining or upgrading either parking facilities or enforcement.
That's all changed, as a recent analysis by the Herald-Leader's Josh Kegley and Linda Johnson showed.
The jobs of managing public parking, writing and collecting fines and planning for better, more efficient parking were consolidated in 2008 under the Lexington Parking Authority. Finally, parking was someone's priority.
Since then the number of tickets written has doubled and collections have risen from about half to around 80 percent.
But the goal isn't just to harrass parkers and collect more money, it's to make more parking available, and that's happened, too.
With better enforcement, people who work downtown no longer use metered spaces to park all day, freeing hundreds up for customers who come to the city center to do business, eat, shop or be entertained.
The money does matter, though. It has financed new meters that accept credit cards, making it easier for people to pay for parking and increasing revenues.
The Parking Authority's surplus, after operations, maintenance and replacing equipment, has allowed it to finance $3.1 million in long-overdue upgrades to the Annex parking deck near the police station. Future surpluses can be used to build more parking without the need for using tax dollars.
Sadly, this improvement isn't mirrored in the unsightly, poorly maintained, and sometimes poorly lit private surface parking lots. While no doubt profitable for the owners and operators, they don't do much to boost Lexington's economy, or downtown's appearance and vibrancy.
Some cities discourage surface parking by increasing property taxes on them, reasoning that if there were more intense development on those lots they would contribute more to the community's economy. That's an idea that Lexington needs to consider. But, at a minimum, the city should use all its powers of enforcement and persuasion to get owners to improve the appearance and screening of surface lots.