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Even Parking Fees Upshift for Bank Profits

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Consumers and banks have historically had an uneasy relationship, especially over the past few years.

The Great Recession saw banks widely viewed as a villain in the run-up to the economic collapse, but the Bush and Obama administrations chose to bail out Wall Street. The Federal Reserve's low-interest rate economic policy sent bank savings rates on a downward spiral, triggering what some consumer advocates called a "war on bank savers."

And banks didn't help their own cause by tightening credit, forcing homeowners into foreclosure rather than working out mortgage modification deals, and amping up fees in response to legislation such as the Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Act, which sought to curb the financial muscle banks used on defenseless consumers.

Now a consumer advocacy group says the industry is off on the wrong foot on debit card fees.

That group is the Washington, D.C.-based Merchants Payments Coalition, which says banks are still grabbing at consumers' pocketbooks, this time with debit card fees for vehicle parking in such places as public garages.

"Banks and credit card companies blame debit reform for everything from obesity to bad weather," says Doug Kanotr, chief legal council for the coalition. "The bottom line is they will find any way they can to raise fees on consumers and Main Street businesses no matter what Congress or anyone else does."

The group's main beef with banks is on so-called "small-ticket" items, which includes parking fees.

The group says local governments across the U.S. are reporting higher parking fees, specifically blaming the Durbin Amendment, a provision of Dodd-Frank that capped the amount of money big banks could charge debit card consumers on retail purchase fees.

For instance, while citing public parking fee hikes, Parkmobile, the District of Columbia's parking management arm, sent an email to customers blaming the Durbin Amendment for the fee hike. The firm partially changed its tune after a complaint from a consumer, but still managed to lay equal blame on big banks and on government overreach on the Durbin rule.

Here's part of an email Parkmobile wrote to consumers explaining the parking fee hike:

The card brands and large issuing banks weren't too happy about having their debit interchange fees capped. So they responded by raising regulated debit interchange fees to the cap across the board without regard to transaction size. The result is that businesses with a small average ticket no longer get special treatment on regulated debit transactions. This is especially damaging since debit cards are used far more frequently than credit cards to pay for small transactions. In Parkmobile's case, payment processing costs have tripled because of these changes.

Banks may be getting the lion's share of the blame from groups like the Merchants Payments Coalition, but there seems to be plenty of blame to go around.

But in the end, as usual, it's consumers left holding the bill, even for something as mundane as parking their car in a downtown lot.

In that regard, some things never change.

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