We commend city leaders for addressing the issue of abandoned shopping carts. Members of Central Neighborhood Council have brought this to the attention of members of Tacoma City Council, and Central Neighborhood Council has submitted a letter requesting city officials to take action on this matter.
One member attended a recent meeting at city hall. He has taken photographs of carts left all around the city, and shared these photographs with city leaders.
The current strategy is for citizens who see such carts to call a company that sends employees around to retrieve the carts and return them to the grocery or retail stores that own them.
Unfortunately, many Tacomans are unaware of this service so numerous carts just lay around in parking lots, on sidewalks, even in waterways.
One proposal is to establish a new city ordinance that would require storeowners to pay a small fine when carts are removed from their property and need to be returned by someone other than staff from that particular store.
A few stores in town, such as Rite-Aid on Hilltop and Stadium Thriftway in Stadium District, have installed devices on carts that cause a clamp to go over a wheel if it is removed from the parking lot. Once this occurs the wheels will no longer turn, making the cart unusable for someone considering taking it for a stroll.
Under the proposed law, stores that have such devices on carts would be exempt from paying the fine, since it is unlikely those carts will end up abandoned all over Tacoma.
The citizen who spoke during the meeting, Justin Leighton, mentioned that he works for Pierce Transit and his job frequently takes him around the county. He said some neighboring cities have this same problem.
A few other cities in the Puget Sound region, including Auburn and Bellevue, have passed laws about abandoned shopping carts. We think it is time to do so in Tacoma.
We do not blame storeowners or managers for this problem. It can be difficult to control the actions of customers when they push a cart full of food or retail goods out of a store. But they do have some responsibility to ensure their property does not become a source of blight in neighborhoods.
Why carts get taken around town should also be addressed. Some of it is lack of transportation. Not everyone owns a car. Walking or taking the bus to transport groceries is a viable option for some people, but only for those in relatively good health or those who live close enough to a store that they can purchase groceries in small amounts on a frequent basis and walk a few blocks home.
But some Tacomans live quite a distance from the nearest grocery store. Some, such as the elderly or mothers of young children, struggle with the task of getting their food from point A to point B. This could point to a need for a new service, perhaps operated by a charity or church, to provide rides to individuals who need food to feed themselves and their families.
Tacoma has considerable problems when it comes to blight, but city hall has made this a priority in recent years. Like graffiti or junk cars, abandoned shopping carts can be a nuisance that detracts from the quality of life in neighborhoods. The devices that lock the wheels of such carts are quite the invention, one we just became aware of. The cost of installing these could be prohibitive, in the range of $100 to $250. This could become an obstacle for some stores, especially those with a large number of carts.
City council members and city staff should conduct more dialogue with stores in reaching a solution that works for everyone.