Posts Tagged ‘Parking Meters’

It’s been an odd week in parking news, mainly because of two six figure stories on opposite ends of the spectrum. In Chicago, we finally have a resolution to the car that accrued more than $105,000 in tickets at O’Hare airport; and in Buffalo, NY we have a meter technician that was caught stealing $210,000 in quarters over 8 years. First, let’s take a look at the Windy City.

As some may recall, a car owned by Jennifer Fitzgerald of Chicago was left in the O’Hare International Airport employee parking lot for more than three years, accruing 678 tickets totaling $106,000 during that time. She filed a suit with the city, showing evidence that while the car had been in her name, it had belonged to a now-ex boyfriend for all intents and purposes. He worked at O’Hare, and was the one who abandoned the vehicle in the lot, refusing to have the car signed over to his name. With the car in an employee lot where she was not allowed to go, Fitzgerald was unable to retrieve it. On top of that, after a vehicle has been deemed abandoned for two to three months, by law the city is supposed to tow and impound the vehicle, but parking enforcement workers at O’Hare never did this. Instead, they continued to ticket the vehicle for years, not just fining it for parking violations but also for having illegally tinted windows or out of date city tags and registration. While parking enforcement denies having quotas, it’s fairly obvious that employees were ticketing this car again and again instead of towing it to boost some kind of metric that they’re evaluated on.

Yesterday, Ms. Fitzgerald’s suit was dismissed and a settlement agreed upon with the city. She would pay a total of $4500 to clear the tickets and fines, with a $1600 down payment to be made by her former boyfriend and the rest to be paid off by Fitzgerald in monthly installments of $78 for the next three years. While being less than 5% of what was owed, this seems like a fairly equitable settlement; the majority of those fines shouldn’t have been there as the vehicle should have been towed, the ex boyfriend is taking care of a big chunk of it, with the rest on Fitzgerald (who missed an earlier court date related to the tickets, thereby increasing them all exponentially). Still, the fact that it took more than three years to even notice this is alarming, and just goes to show just how lax city oversight of parking enforcement and operations usually is.

That said, Chicago is still ahead of the game compared to Buffalo, NY where city meter mechanic James Bagarozzo was sentenced to two and half years in prison for stealing more than $210,000 in quarters from city meters between 2003 and 2011. Using his position and technical skills, he rigged about 70 parking meters so that he could collect from them undetected. He would then go to the bank on his lunch hour and roll and exchange the coins. I once had to roll nearly $50 in quarters and other change, and that took hours; Jimmy Bagz (that’s what I’m calling him now) rolled more than 10,000 pounds, that’s five tons, of quarters! Jimmy Bagz had one co-conspirator, a co-worker named Lawrence Charles who helped with the scheme for five years and stole $15,000 in that period.

So how did they get caught? Well that’s the beauty of this story, one that just drives home the point I make again and again in so many of these stories: a little attention and oversight by the city’s parking management will save money and keep most parking abuses from happening. You see, Buffalo parking commissioner Kevin Helfer noticed that the digital meters in the city were making significantly more money than the old mechanical meters, which is odd. He had an investigation launched and using video surveillance they were able to discover that Jimmy Bagz had been stealing fro the old meters daily. When the FBI was called in and they confronted Jimmy Bagz, he admitted to the thefts (which are considered a federal crime). Since this debacle, the city has switched entirely to digital meters that take both credit cards and coins and are next to impossible to rob. Since making these changes and ending Jimmy Bagz’ scheme, city parking meter revenue is up $500,000 annually. With that kind of improvement, you have to wonder if there might have been others skimming off the top as well. Regardless, the city and it’s citizens are all benefitting from this wannabe Stan Smith finally being caught, and all thanks to a parking official that actually took their job seriously and paid attention to what was going on.

As of yet, there is no word on whether Kevin Helfer looks like Forrest Whitaker, but I find the story far more amusing to imagine he does.

Chicago is fast becoming the worst parking situation in the country. If you’ve ever had to drive anywhere in Chicago, you know it’s a nightmare of traffic congestion, constant construction and angry drivers hanging out their windows and shouting profanities at each other; now it seems the parking there is becoming just as bad. An array of factors have occurred over the past few years to make this happen, and like everything in Chicago there’s more than enough corruption and  underhandedness to go around.

Since we’re talking about corruption, there’s no better place to start than Mayor Daley’s office. Back in 2008, Mayor Richard Daley put pressure on the Chicago city council to privatize the parking authority in Chicago. The deal was forced through and voted into action in just two days, and it became rapidly apparent that between all the backroom deals and arm twisting that it took to pass it, nobody had a chance to read over the deal. It was a sweetheart deal for the company, Chicago Parking Meters LLC., giving them a 75 year lease of all the city’s parking meters and entitling them to all the profits during that time in exchange for $1.15 billion paid to the city upfront for the lease. It wasn’t too much later that the city’s inspector general reported that the city had undervalued the contract by at least $1 billion, and that wasn’t even taking into account the steep rate hikes that CPM has implemented since taking over. In addition, the contract stipulated that the city compensate CPM each year for all potential meter profits lost from construction, street repairs, festivals, and handicap placards. What that means is that anytime any parking meter wasn’t in service or someone got to park for free, the city was getting billed for every hour of it.

On top of that, CPM has raised parking rates in Chicago every year since their contract started. Chicago now holds the distinction of possessing the highest parking rates in the country thanks to all the hikes. What that means is that in addition to how much they’ve been taking out of the pockets of Chicagoans, they’ve also been billing the city more and more for “missed parking” thanks to the rate increases. After already making hundreds of millions off of the city with this deal, Mayor Rahm Emanuel had an auditing system created to verify CPM’s lost parking hours claims. Lo and behold, the audit revealed that CPM had over-charged the city by $22 million for 2012, saying the city owed $25 million for lost parking instead of the $3 million indicated by the audit. The city is still fighting with CPM over the money, and Mayor Emanuel has frequently referred to the parking deal with CPM as the worst in the city’s history.

As if trying to add insult to injury, there have been more and more stories surfacing of Chicagoans being ticketed while paying for their parking, either while they were walking to a pay station or while they were struggling with a defective meter. In most cases, no amount of attempts to contest the tickets has gotten them reversed, despite assurances from  CPM and the city that parking enforcers are instructed to check to see if the vehicle owner is on their way to or paying the meter. On the opposite end of parking enforcement cruelty, their seems to be a rogue officer at Northwestern Memorial Hospital who is fining legitimately disabled visitors and confiscating their drivers license and disabled parking placard, forcing these poor folks to suffer for weeks until they can get the violation overturned in court and their licenses and placards returned to them. So far, 17 out of 19 handicap parking violations this officer has handed out have been overturned by the courts, and yet this person is apparently still on the job.

There is one small ray of sunshine in all of this; despite being scheduled to go into effect January 1st, the latest $.75 rate hike has yet to happen. No clear explanation has been given by LAZ Parking (the parking management company hired by CPM to run their meter operation), though they have stated that the price hike will be in effect before March 1st. So enjoy the “luxury” of only paying $5.75 an hour for parking while you can Chicagoans, and let’s all hope Mayor Emanuel can get some concessions from CPM or renegotiate their contract sometime in the near future.

SFpark hourly meters actually saves motorists money

By: Will Reisman | 12/16/12 8:56 PM

SF Examiner Staff Writer

“The meter rates aren’t changing as much, which is proof that we’re zeroing in on the rates that aren’t too high or aren’t too low.” — Jay Primus, project manager at SFpark

When The City first installed its SFpark meters — devices that would increase hourly parking rates based on demand — many motorists complained that it was one more way to gouge drivers for extra dollars.

In fact, the program has done the exact opposite.

Since taking effect in April 2011, average hourly rates have dropped by 14 cents from $2.73 to $2.59 at the 7,000 SFpark meters. Overall, 17 percent of those meters offer hourly rates of $1 or less — prices that are significantly cheaper than the ones offered at The City’s 22,000 older meters. And 6 percent of SFpark meters go for as cheap as 25 cents an hour, according to data from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which oversees parking policies in The City. The drop in prices for on-street parking meters coincides with a 20 percent rate decrease in SFMTA-run garages.

Donald Shoup, a UCLA professor whose theories on parking were instrumental in developing the SFpark program, said he expected prices at meters to rise in the first year, given the demand for spaces in San Francisco. He said the drop in meter rates is proof that the agency is concerned about responsible parking management and not price-gouging policies.

“I don’t understand how anyone can keep parroting that this is a money grab,” Shoup said.

Because the SFpark meters provide more payment options for motorists, ticket citations have decreased.

Previously, the SFMTA received about 45 percent of its parking revenue from citations. At the SFpark meters, that rate is 20 percent, agency spokesman Paul Rose said.

Rates at the SFpark meters are adjusted every six weeks to reflect demand for specific spaces, with prices as high as $5.75 an hour. Jay Primus, project manager at SFpark, noted that only half the meters were changed during the last adjustment, meaning that prices are nearing an hourly rate that will consistently manage demand.

“The meter rates aren’t changing as much, which is proof that we’re zeroing in on the rates that aren’t too high or aren’t too low,” Primus said.

Instead of drawing in reams of revenue for the SFMTA, the SFpark program has actually contributed to a slight loss. The agency expects to receive about $5.5 million less than expected from parking citations this fiscal year, although those losses are offset mostly by an increase of $4.4 million from additional meter revenue. The agency has a total budget of $830 million.

“The obligation of this program from the onset was to achieve the lowest parking prices possible to achieve our goals,” Primus said. “I think we’re proving that.”

That argument might be lost on some city residents. Several neighborhood groups have formed organizations to oppose the new meters. Mari Eliza, a spokeswoman for Eastern Neighborhoods United Front, said the new meters are confusing and they are slowly creeping into residential areas.

“The arguments the SFMTA uses about managing parking don’t really hold water with residents here,” Eliza said. “Personally, I’m perfectly happy with the old meters. That’s how I use up all my spare change.”

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

via SFpark hourly meters actually saves motorists money | Will Reisman | Transportation | San Francisco Examiner.