Any head-scratching on the part of downtown parkers over the city’s new, higher-tech, multi-space, credit-card-taking, cellphone-accessible parking kiosks is apparently not showing up in a dramatic increase in the number of parking tickets.
That’s the way Jon Rouse, general manager of Park Cedar Rapids, analyzes his reports of tickets written by the parking system’s enforcement officers.
According to figures provided by Rouse, Park Cedar Rapids wrote notably fewer parking tickets in calendar years 2010 and 2011 than city enforcement officers did in 2009 — 20,660 in 2010 and 19,720 in 2011 compared to 23,907 in 2009 — though it appears that Park Cedar Rapids is on pace to write more parking tickets in 2012 — the first full year of the new meters — than in either 2010 and 2011.
Through the end of August, 17,486 tickets were written, which would equate to 26,229 tickets if the rate of ticket-writing continues through the end of the year. (Story continues below chart)
Parking enforcement, he explains, is designed to have parkers get their business done and leave to allow others to do that same. Rouse adds that the parking system’s goal is to have at least 15 percent of the meters in a particular part of downtown available to handle a new parker, and to do that in the core requires tougher enforcement, he says.
For instance, in the first nine months of 2012, enforcement officers have written 2,982 tickets for meter violations on Second Street and 275 for overtime parking — staying in a parking space beyond the posted limit — there, which is more than for all of 2010, when 2,970 meter violations were written on Second Street and just 10 tickets for overtime parking. In all of 2011, there were 3,442 tickets for meter violation and just 61 for overtime parking on Second Street.
Sufficiently jarring are the bright orange color of today’s parking ticket and the $7.50 fine that comes with it, though, that it can seem like the city has a meter police officer around every corner.
Actually, Park Cedar Rapids has just two enforcement officers — Rouse calls them “ambassadors” — and a third employee who spends about half-time writing tickets.
Rouse acknowledges, though, that the new mid-block parking kiosks that have replaced the traditional parking meters allow an enforcement officer with a computer inside the officer’s car to know which vehicles in a given block have not paid up. Theoretically, 2.5 employees writing tickets today can write more tickets than they did before the new meters first arrived a year ago, he says.
But Rouse notes that his employer — he is running the city parking operation for Republic Parking, Chattanooga, Tenn., as part of the city’s move to partially privatize it — earns its $108,000 annual fee no matter how many parking tickets get written.
Rouse says upward of 90 percent of those who get a parking citation pay it. The cost of the typical meter violation goes from $7.50 to $12.50 after 30 days and eventually can go to a collection agency if left unpaid.
One of Rouse’s initiatives, in fact, has been to hire a collection agency to go after older unpaid parking tickets, an exercise that has brought more than $375,000 into the parking system in the last few years, he reports.
For some years before 2009, City Hall and the property owners and employers in the downtown went back and forth about how to best run an effective downtown parking system.
This prompted the city in September 2009 to turn the management of the system over to Republic Parking. Then in early 2011, the city turned the oversight of Republic over to the Downtown District, which is now part of the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance. The city still owns the public ramps and meters.
Park Cedar Rapids’ work is directly overseen by a three-member Downtown Parking Management Board, the members of which are Jon Dusek, president/CEO of Armstrong Development Inc., Randy Rings, legal counsel for True North Companies LLC, and Doug Neumann, executive vice president of Cedar Rapid Metro Economic Alliance.
It’s difficult to make any sweeping comparisons about the overall health of the downtown parking system because much has changed with it since the flood of 2008 and continues to change.
The city’s First Street Parkade has been demolished due to age and flood damage, and two private ramps have been demolished to make way for the city’s new convention center. Meanwhile, the city is of building two new parking ramps, one across from the hotel, arena and convention center and one in the vicinity of the new federal courthouse. Parking revenue generated by the new ramps will help pay off the debt.
Since the flood, the parking operation has spent $981,284 on a parking access and revenue control system, which, in part, allows Park Cedar Rapids to maximize the use of its available parking spaces. The system does not need one space for every monthly parker, for instance, but rather can average between 1.6 and 1.9 monthly parkers in every space, says Rouse. Not every parker works five days a week and some eat lunch at different times, he explains.
The system now has 47 of the multi-space kiosks in place for 500 parking spaces at a cost of $330,750, says Rouse.
In the calendar year 2011, Rouse reports that the parking system earned $400,000 in profit on about $1.9 million in gross revenue.
In the hand over of the parking system oversight to the Metro Economic Alliance in early 2011, the city also committed $4 million to the system to pay for maintenance that had been deferred over the years.
Even so, Rouse says the parking system — with 3,395 off-street parking spaces, a number which will increase to about 4,400 with the two new ramps, and 2,100 on-street public spaces — is hardly flush with cash.
“I think the revenue picture is OK, but we got a long way to go,” says Rouse. The parking system also manages the city’s skywalk system, and it, too, needs constant maintenance, he says.
The parking oversight board’s Rings says the downtown parking system is in “good shape” now that the Metro Economic Alliance is overseeing its operation. (Story continues below photo)
“It’s better than it was when we took over and it continues to improve,” Rings says.
The oversight board’s Dusek says the oversight board and the Metro Economic Alliance are less concerned about maximizing profits in the parking system and more interested in using it as an economic development tool to keep businesses, employees and customers downtown and to lure new ones there.
And yes, Dusek says the oversight board hears complaints about the downtown parking kiosks and the challenges they seem to pose for those not particularly “tech-savvy.”
“Just hang in there,” he urges. “I think once you use them once or twice, they’re not that difficult to use.”