Bag It: Other Things for Which Denver Could Charge Residents

Ah, cupboards full of plastic bags, we hardly knew ye.
Ah, cupboards full of plastic bags, we hardly knew ye. Teague Bohlen
In December, Denver City Council followed through on a long-proposed “Bring Your Own Bag” measure, courtesy of Councilwoman Kendra Black and with the approval of both stakeholders and her fellow councilmembers. Those retail establishments affected by the new ordinance — mainly grocery stores, but also gas stations, department stores and pharmacies — will charge customers a dime per disposable bag they use. Four cents of that is kept by the store; the other six cents goes to the city, which says it will spend some of the new revenue on supplying residents with free reusable bags to avoid the fees.

It's an environmentally friendly decision that will cause little more than a minor annoyance to Denverites before we get used to it, sort of like getting used to writing a new year in January. But the ordinance got us thinking — what else could Denver suddenly start charging us for that we’ve previously been able to take for granted? Here’s a list that we definitely don’t want to see come true.

The days when we could park near almost any retail strip for free, at least for a couple of hours, are dwindling — and, in some areas, long gone. Digital meters have only hastened the process, as have those “pay here” kiosks in some areas that don’t even let the next person who pulls into a just-vacated spot use the time left on the meter. So get used to it, Denver: If you want to park, you’re going to have to (always) pay.

Driving Downtown
Another cue that Denver could take from major metropolitan areas worldwide: the congestion charge. London is perhaps most famous for it, but San Diego has already adopted a version of it, as have Singapore, Stockholm, Milan and several others. The way it works is usually some version of this: If you want to enter a heavily traveled part of a city during peak hours (in London, for example, it’s any time from 7 in the morning until 6 in the evening, Monday through Friday), you pay a fee. And the way you pay the fee is already something CDOT has established with its Express Toll system, so the infrastructure is already in place.

click to enlarge Looks like a free day to breathe...if you can. - RICK KIMPEL AT FLICKR
Looks like a free day to breathe...if you can.
Rick Kimpel at Flickr
Air Quality
This sort of charge would depend on the air quality on any given day, naturally, and it carries with it the same sort of environmental goals as does the Bring Your Own Bag ordinance: encouraging responsible behavior by penalizing the irresponsible. So when the air is good or moderate, Denver residents wouldn't see an air-quality charge on their city tax bill. The rate would increase when the air quality is unhealthy for sensitive groups, and increase even more when the air quality is rated as "unhealthy” or “hazardous."

Soda Pop
New York City gets the brunt of the blame for this policy, but Boulder established the same thing back in 2016. Arguably, it’s policy that’s proved to have worked: It’s estimated that soda consumption in Berkeley, California, which passed a sugary drink ordinance in 2015, dropped by over 50 percent in the first three years. In Boulder, it’s a two-cent-per-ounce tax on soda, which sounds like a lot (two pennies times a 44 oz. Thirstbuster is no small change) until you consider that it's not a consumer tax. The price of the tax increase is applied at the distribution level, and is only felt by the consumer through higher prices for individual sodas, which is a long way around saying that it is a consumer tax, just a hidden one. (Makes you feel better, right? No? Maybe a soda would make you feel better. That’ll be $16.50.)

Dog Parks
There has to be a way for Denver to charge dog ownership above and beyond simple licensing. Why not charge for the privilege of having a place for dogs to run and jump and play? That land ain’t free, you know, and neither is the fencing or paying some poop service to come around once in a while to clear out the piles. Besides, don’t you love your dog enough to pay a little more for his or her happiness? Of course you do. That’s a good citizen.

click to enlarge TEAGUE BOHLEN
Teague Bohlen
Those who use bikes as their primary mode of commute clearly have it too easy, including access to all those mini streets, the implied permission by authorities to ignore traffic signage and basic rules of the road, a healthy lifestyle and good calves. There has to be a way to make biking more revenue-positive for the city. Tolls on bike paths would be too hard — but maybe if the cops actually started issuing citations to those irresponsible cyclists who weave in and out of lanes, ignore stop signs and lights, and generally rely on everyone else trying to figure out what sort of Greg LeMond move they might make in front of you? That would be a start.

The 16th Street Mall Shuttle
RTD has already reduced service on the mall by half in terms of frequency. Why not chuck the whole idea and start charging people? The department could market it as a “charming old-world” addition to the area, super-low fares like a dime or even a quarter. Anything would help. And if it’s successful enough, it might do away with itself completely by lack of use. Problem solved.

Mountain Views
Hey, hotels charge for the view. Homes are sold in part based on their vistas. Why wouldn’t Denver want to get a piece of that sweet action? Owners and renters with a current line of sight overlooking anything worthwhile could get a letter from city government saying, “That sure is a pretty view you have from your front window there. It’d be a shame if anything were to happen to it....”

Naming Rights
No, not for the city, or for Mile High Stadium — er, Empower Field at Mile High. For your own street. What, you don’t want to live at the corner of CenturyLink Drive and Kaiser Permanente Boulevard? Then pony up, Denver.
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Teague Bohlen is a writer, novelist and professor at the University of Colorado Denver. His first novel, The Pull of the Earth, won the Colorado Book Award for Literary Fiction in 2007; his textbook The Snarktastic Guide to College Success came out in 2014. His new collection of flash fiction, Flatland, is available now.
Contact: Teague Bohlen