POSTED ON NOVEMBER 28, 2012:
Pay to Stay
Skeptics question downtown plan to triple city parking meter revenue
New parking meters won't replace old ones in downtown anytime soon, at least under a draft parking proposal presented to citizens at a Nov. 20 public forum. But the number of metered spaces downtown would dramatically increase under an initiative to replace missing meters and fix broken ones.
Amid howls of skepticism and pointed questions from the audience, consultant Mike Brink cited increased enforcement and more meter maintenance as part of a draft plan to reinvest in street parking downtown -- acknowledging the ineffectiveness of the current system.
"During times of economic crunches, resources get redirected out of the metered parking system and not as much gets put back in. It's kind of an area that has suffered from some neglect over the last few years," Brink told an audience of about 20 citizens gathered at Tulsa City Hall.
With rate increases, the city anticipates a roughly 200 percent increase in parking meter revenue to $715,000. The number of meters would grow because there are several spaces "where there's not even a post that have been authorized to be metered," Brink told the crowd, explaining that, "as a result of this arrangement, all of that would be appropriately metered."
The city has 215 such "vacant post" or "no post" spaces designated to be metered. Adding meters for these spaces -- and repairing the non-working meters servicing 76 spaces -- would result in an approximately 50 percent increase in metered spaces downtown.
None of these changes would affect the Brady Arts District just north of central downtown.
"There are no plans to put meters in Brady," Brink said at the meeting. "Brady is off the table for discussion for now."
Rates would go up in most areas, but remain below parking costs in larger cities. About five blocks in the area of downtown sometimes called the financial district would see meter rates boosted to $2 an hour. Now, parking costs max out at 50 cents per hour. Other areas would see rates increase to $1 per hour, a price that would allow the city to break even on credit card transactions, Brink noted.
Another recommended change would be to begin meter enforcement at 7am, an hour earlier than current regulations. Paying for street parking downtown would remain a weekday-only requirement.
However, rather than devote city resources directly to repair meters and manage the system, instead the city will turn to an outside company. Brink told the crowd that Tulsa-based American Parking won a bid for the job over two other companies, Sage Solutions, LLC and Chicago-based SP Plus.
Though the contract has not been finalized -- it must be approved by the Tulsa City Council first -- the recommended proposal calls for American Parking each year to be paid the first $509,000 in gross revenue from the revamped meter system, then 5 percent of any additional revenue.
The bottom line would be more favorable for the city than other options considered, Brink told the crowd. In the 12-month period ending June 30, the city took in $225,000 in revenue from parking meters and $198,000 from parking violations.
In an interview, Brink clarified that as part of the deal with American Parking, the company will select meters to go where meters are missing currently. He said the city wanted the cheapest option, so the replacement meters will be from the same manufacturer -- Duncan Solutions -- that installed the city's current meters.
Those meters have broken down for various reasons, but Brink told the crowd that the American Parking contract will include a 98 percent meter "uptime" requirement, as well as a repair response within 48 hours should a meter malfunction.
The citizens in the crowd grilled Brink and city representatives about the plan. One man complained about being ticketed despite the problem stemming from a broken meter.
Perhaps the most ardent critic of the plan was Kent Morlan, an attorney who leases space to other Tulsa lawyers through one of his businesses, Morelaw Suites.
He stressed that the most pressing issue for him was the lack of turnover, and that more enforcement was needed to keep people from camping out in spaces all day.
"What you charge has no impact on turnover," Morlan said at the meeting, adding that the number of spaces has been reduced downtown and noting that some large businesses get breaks that allow them to park nearby without restrictions.
When it comes to enforcement, Brink said the city will add a parking enforcement officer to boost the number to three officers devoted to writing parking tickets.
Another person attending the meeting said he represented Kanbar Properties, owner of several office buildings downtown. He wanted to know if any modeling had been done to show what number of officers could sufficiently handle the work of downtown parking enforcement. Brink said no such modeling had been done.
"We're really going to focus on improving operations, improving how routes are developed," Brink said, adding that American Parking's role will involve consultant work with the city. He said American Parking recommended the staffing needed for an appropriate level of enforcement.
As far as whether the approach is the best way to keep workers from staying in one space the whole day, for example, Brink told the crowd that the city believes working meters would be effective.
Brink noted that the proposal was the work of a seven-person review committee, and that no endorsement of the proposal had yet come from Mayor Dewey Bartlett. If Bartlett backs the plan, it would require approval by the Tulsa City Council.
Another parking meter meeting is tentatively set for December to discuss Cherry Street parking. That area had parking meters, but they were removed as part of a project to reduce lanes and introduce angled parking.
In an interview, Brink said the draft plan calls for meters to be reintroduced to Cherry Street, with 113 metered spaces compared to the 48 metered spaces before the street lane change.
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