BUFFALO, N.Y. - Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown is calling on the New York State Attorney General to investigate high parking lot prices near the HSBC Arena during the World Junior Hockey Championships.
As 2 On Your Side reported on Tuesday, some fans attending that day's IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship matchup between the Czech Republic and Canada at the HSBC Arena experienced sticker shock when pulling into a parking lot two blocks from the action, and being asked to pay $50 for parking.
The fans weren't alone.
"I was very shocked and I think the public was shocked too," said City of Buffalo Commissioner of Parking Kevin Helfer. "Believe me, I understand capitalism and free enterprise...but this doesn't leave a good taste in people's mouth and it's not good for the City of Buffalo," Helfer said.
Even an attendant flagging cars into the lot on Tuesday admitted the price was steep.
"It's outrageous," said Mike Prentice who is employed by the operator of the lot, Pay-2-Park. Prentice also noted that lots across the street from where he was working were charging only $10 or $15.
"It's crazy,...but people are willing to pay it," he said.
When asked by WGRZ-TV whether they provided a car wash for that price, Prentice chuckled and replied, "For fifty bucks we should!"
Paying The Price:
"No way am I spending $50 for parking," said one fan from Canada, who promptly turned his truck around after entering the lot Tuesday and being told the price by an attendant, ...while a woman from Toronto with two excited children in tow only flinched slightly when shelling out the fee. "It's a small price to pay for a tournament like this," she said.
Frank Egana, who was selling hot dogs on the sidewalk outside the lot Tuesday, called what was going on "gouging".
"I've been here since 10 o'clock this morning when it was $40 and now there's a Canadian game with people coming from Canada and they raised it up to $50 because they know it'll be a bigger draw," Egana said.
When Team Canada took to the ice again on Wednesday, however, the price at the same lot charging $50 on Tuesday, was only $20 and in fact went down to $15 an hour before face off.
Pay-2-Park still hasn't returned phone calls placed by 2 On Your Side seeking comment, so there's no explanation from the company as to why it was charging less.
Pay-2-Park leases the lot at the former Donovan State Office Building from the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation, according to its Chairman Jordan Levy, who told WGRZ-TV his agency does not dictate to Pay-2-Park what it should charge.
Pay-2-Park is one of the many businesses principally owned by Buffalo developer Mark Croce. Croce told 2 On Your Side he does not involve himself in the day to day operations of the company, but defended what it was charging as a matter of supply and demand in a free market economy ...noting as well that no one was forced to park there.
However, several people who paid the $50 fee Tuesday told 2 On Your Side they were from out of town and simply unaware there were much cheaper alternatives in the immediate vicinity.
The Buffalo Convention and Visitors Bureau plans to post signs directing people to parking alternatives to avoid the high costs.
As for the lot's practice of changing prices just before the games start, Croce says that was likely due to a common business practice which he called "yield management". Croce explained prices may have been lowered in order to fill remaining spaces rather than leave them vacant. Croce compared it to a hotel, which might ordinarily charge $200 per room, letting a room go for half price to someone arriving late at night in order make at least some money on a room which might otherwise remain empty.
The practice didn't sit well with two Torontonians who arrived just before the puck dropped for Tuesday's game, paid the $50, and then saw the price being changed as soon as they parked their vehicle.
Still, at that point, they weren't about to haggle for a refund.
"To be honest, it's been a long drive and at this point we just want to go catch the start of the game," one of them said.
The City Responds:
Peter Cutler, a spokesman for Mayor Brown, says the city is may be able to revoke licenses from parking lot operators that charge more than the maximum price listed on the license request.
Cutler also says companies which contract with the city to operate city owned lots are limited to charging no more than $15 per event.
While the lot run by Pay-2-Park at the former Donovan Building does not fall into that category, Cutler wished to remind all those attending the games that there are many lots in the vicinity charging as low as $7 to park, and to advise that various means of available mass transit can get fans to and from the games for even less than that.
Click on the video icon to watch Tuesday's story from 2 On Your Side Reporter Dave McKinley and Photojournalist Dave Harrington, or Wednesday's follow up edition, including the city's response and fan reaction.