Why do so few people go to the South End beaches these days? I suspect the parking restrictions and fees implemented several years ago have a lot to do with it.

It wasn't all that long ago you could drive along East and West Rodney French Boulevards and see throngs of beach-goers dotting the sand for as far as the eye could see. The more beautiful among us sitting on the wall, displaying their tanned bods as a line of fast cars paraded by to the sound of honking horns and blaring radios. The nearby parking lots bulging at the seams. What happened?

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On several occasions this summer I visited the beaches, only to find the lots and the sand devoid of much human activity.

Part of the problem is that attitudes about the beach have changed somewhat over the years. I think more and more young people have been taught to fear exposure to the sun, while still others find beach bumming to be a somewhat less interesting pastime than we once did.

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But I think the larger part is that parking fees have discouraged many from going to the local beaches. Granted the parking fee is only five bucks, and an annual parking pass is $15. Certainly affordable to most, but not all. Some find it difficult to understand that this is a working poor kinda town. Finding a spare five bucks can be a challenge to some families who might need that cash before the next payday to buy milk or gas for the car. Their struggle is real. Finding a spare $15 can be even more problematic.

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Besides, there is resentment when something that once was free is no longer. Taking the kids to the beach for the day was once free and now it is not.

Certainly, Horseneck still draws massive numbers of people, and you have to pay to park there. But Horseneck draws from a much larger pool of people from throughout the region. East and West Beach are municipal beaches, and should be available free of charge for those who are unable to travel to Horseneck or beyond.

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Parking fees and the banning of outdoor cooking have also had an impact on Fort Taber Park. City officials argue that people who cooked at the park often left messes behind. So fine those who do, and hire a few kids for the summer to keep the park clean.

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There is little left that is free for poor and working-class families to do during the summer recess from school. Fees and restrictions can result in the exclusion of some from activities they once enjoyed at no cost, and the impact is evident by the small numbers of people that are using the beaches.

It's time to reconsider the beach fees and relax the restrictions.

Barry Richard is the host of The Barry Richard Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from noon to 3 p.m. Contact him at barry@wbsm.com and follow him on Twitter @BarryJRichard58. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.