Parking in Atlanta

Moderated by Rick Badie

Parking in downtown has long been a nightmare. Now it can be quite costly, too, if you stay past your allotted time or park illegally. City Hall was flooded with complaints after it contracted with ParkAtlanta, a unit of Duncan Solutions, to manage enforcement. An Atlanta city councilman writes that it’s time to terminate the contract and start anew, while I give a synopsis of how the city reached this juncture.

By Kwanza Hall

Once again, the city of Atlanta’s decision to privatize parking enforcement is in the news. This time, everything from the reliability of parking meters and the accuracy of signage to the ethics of ticket writing has been questioned. In July 2009, the Atlanta City Council authorized the department of public works to enter into a contract with Milwaukee-based Duncan Solutions to enforce the city’s parking code. Between July and September that year, an agreement was worked out without council input. The agreement gave sweeping authority to Duncan Solutions to increase the number of metered spaces in the city and locate them where they pleased as long as the city received $5.5 million dollars annually. Seventy percent of the 2,500 parking meters were placed in the district I serve. Some of the city’s most popular small business corridors are there: Sweet Auburn and Edgewood avenues, Little Five Points, Fairlie-Poplar and Midtown.

These are corridors where entrepreneurs with a unique vision attract consumers looking for a unique shopping or dining experience. The businesses have a loyal following. Many of these corridors grew up before the automobile and have no interior or surface parking. On-street parking is the welcome mat to their businesses. A change in on-street parking enforcement, not done thoughtfully, can have as great a financial impact as a national recession. Each time a parking ticket is incorrectly issued or a boot is improperly placed, I worry about collateral damage to the city. We may have outsourced parking enforcement but we cannot outsource our leadership responsibilities. The city retains oversight of our parking enforcement program. It has the authority to reassess its relationship with the company that represents us.

As we approach the third anniversary of our contract with Duncan Solutions’ local affiliate, ParkAtlanta, it is time to admit some truths. This contract is not working. It is not working in the interests of our residents or small businesses. It is not working in the interests of the hundreds of thousands of commuters, out-of-towners and international visitors who visit the city.

If I had my way, we would cancel the contract with ParkAtlanta and start a new conversation about on-street parking enforcement. But I am only one council member of 15. Most council districts have no parking meters. They may not feel our citizens’ pain like we do in District 2. It will cost the city approximately $8 million to end our contract with ParkAtlanta. I believe that the short-term financial hit is worth it in the long run.

If we lack the will to void the contract, then we should start planning for the future of parking enforcement after the contract expires in 2016. Do we want to return parking enforcement to the city’s public works department, continue to outsource enforcement or explore a managed, fee-for-services model that allows for more flexibility? We have a little more than three years before the end of our current contract for parking enforcement, about the right amount of time to research best practices in other cities, consult with citizens, and determine next steps. Let’s get started.

Kwanza Hall is an Atlanta city councilman.

By Rick Badie

Nowadays in Atlanta, it really pays to feed the meter.

Three years ago, Duncan Solutions of Milwaukee signed a seven-year contract to handle parking enforcement in the city. The contract included parking meter collections, right-of-way enforcement, parking citation processing, booting and towing.

The company’s unit, ParkAtlanta, installed hundreds of multispace parking-meter pay stations around town. Get-tough measures for parking violators didn’t go over too well with some city dwellers and visitors.

Here are some highlights of what has transpired since the city outsourced parking enforcement:

 • July 2010: The Atlanta City Council votes to increase the time limits of metered parking in certain areas and to eliminate overnight parking restrictions in certain metered parking areas altogether. Those restrictions have an impact on revenue projections.

• Oct. 2010: ParkAtlanta issues refunds to drivers of 28 vehicles that haved been towed for illegal or improper parking from areas around the Georgia Dome. The reason: Parking signs in those areas were deemed inadequate.

• Oct. 2011: An independent arbitrator rules that the city may have to pay back the parking enforcement company nearly $3.5 million and see its share of parking tickets and towing fees reduced monthly. ParkAtlanta, which agreed with the arbitrator’s decision on revenue adjustments, had been working with the city to amicably settle the matter.

•  June 2012: The Atlanta City Council approves steeper fines issued by ParkAtlanta to ensure the city pockets the $5.5 million annually it was to receive from ParkAtlanta. That amount was jeopardized when city officials, as a response to residents’ complaints, limited ParkAtlanta’s enforcement. Fines for illegal parking jump to $35 from $25. After 14 days, the fines would jump to $70. And 45 days after the ticket is issued, the fine would hit $95.

• Aug. 2012: ParkAtlanta collected in 2011 more than $8.5 million and issued more than 200,000 citations, according to records obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The company keeps whatever money it collects beyond the $5.5 million. Anderson Moore, regional vice president with Duncan Solutions, told the AJC: “We have to be accountable to the city everyday. This is what we do for a living and we are proud of that… We knew because of the history of the parking program in Atlanta there were going to be challenges. I’m very satisfied with our relationship with the city. The city did a good job flushing out the issues.”

By Anderson Moore

Jeremiah McWilliams’ recent article about parking enforcement in Atlanta addressed the importance of effective parking management to promote vehicle turnover and local commerce. As the city’s partner, ParkAtlanta is committed to delivering responsive, transparent service to the residents, businesses and visitors of Atlanta. We see ourselves as part of the Atlanta community, and while our business is probably not high on the popularity list for some, we want to do what is right and be accountable to the citizens of Atlanta and the city as a whole.

The nature of any scarce resource such as on-street parking is that there are many users with different views of how that resource should be allocated. It is the responsibility of city officials to sort out these conflicts and, once they have done so, it is ParkAtlanta’s job to implement the city’s policies. To do so, ParkAtlanta employs a combination of technology, parking management expertise, and trained staff to ensure that ParkAtlanta performs in accordance with the city’s ordinances, standard operating procedures and contract terms.

In order to maximize the accuracy, accountability and quality of our service, ParkAtlanta:

• Has enforcement officers capture images of illegally parked vehicles during the ticket writing process.

• Has enforcement officers record signage problems into their hand-held devices for overnight work-order generation.

• Records all customer telephone calls for quality assurance.

• Retains images of all payment documents and customer correspondence sent to us.

• Provides comprehensive reports to the city about program performance.

Since ParkAtlanta’s contract started in late 2009, city administrators, Atlanta city council members, and concerned citizens have worked to improve the city’s parking program and make it more responsive to the needs of motorists. As a result, parking zones have been established with days and hours of meter operations customized to local needs.

ParkAtlanta continues to work with the city to enhance the parking program and is working on the following improvements over the next few months:

• Adding credit card payment capability to 600 current coin-only spaces.

• Adding pay-by-cellphone/smartphone convenience for motorists.

• Adding “How To” videos to explain the operation of multi-space meters.

ParkAtlanta works hard to avoid errors, but we are not perfect. We regret when there are errors of any kind. When motorist confusion arises or ticketing errors occur and are brought to our attention, we pledge to handle them quickly and with as little hassle for the motorist as possible. The rate of such errors is low (fewer than 1.5 percent) and consistent with the best-run parking programs in the country, and over half of the tickets that are brought to our attention are dismissed before the motorist even has to go to court.

Other facts about the city’s parking program that people may not know are:

• In 2007/08, prior to enforcement layoffs, the city issued 13.3 tickets a month for every metered space. Last year, ParkAtlanta issued 7.7 tickets a month for every metered space.

• Enforcement officers cannot see how much time is left on an unexpired multi-space meter so they have no idea when a legally parked vehicle will expire.

• Two-thirds of all tickets issued in Atlanta are issued to vehicles registered outside the city limits, including nearly a quarter issued to out-of-state vehicles.

• Half of all motorists who receive tickets pay their tickets within 14 days – one of the highest compliance rates in the country.

• ParkAtlanta employs 80 people.

• ParkAtlanta staff includes 30 sworn police officers on a part-time basis who increase the police presence on streets.

• Half of the work under ParkAtlanta’s contract is performed by local minority and women-owned businesses.

On a personal note, before arriving at ParkAtlanta, I was the public parking director in both Denver and Kansas City. I’ve spent my career as a parking professional. With my team, we strive to run the best parking program in the country for Atlanta.

On the days when we fall short, I encourage any motorist who has a complaint about a ticket they received, a concern about some aspect of the parking program, or any other question, to reach out to ParkAtlanta at (888) 266-1360 or at www.parkatlanta.org. I promise we will do our best to resolve your issues or refer you to someone who can. Thank you for your patience as we work every day to make our program better and fair for everyone within the community we serve.

Anderson Moore, regional vice president, Duncan Solutions.

28 comments Add your comment

Bryan -- MARTA supporter

August 31st, 2012
10:54 am

More people should be taking MARTA downtown anyway versus trying to drive all the time. There are plenty of train stations and bus lines that come there and even the new streetcar will connect the east and west sides. There is no reason to have to drive downtown. I’d much rather pay 2.50 to come downtown and walk than have to pay and pay and pay for parking and then if you don’t make it back on time have to pay for a ticket. All on top of the stress of having to drive and deal with traffic and even find a space on the street or pay a ton for parking in a deck.

Eric

August 30th, 2012
10:18 pm

Reading all this is bewildering. Why should there have to be parking fees anyway? If someone needs to park in a space, let them! What happened to good citizenship and neighborliness?

Because of the way things are, however, I avoid coming into downtown, and so Atl. doesn’t get my business. Duh, maybe if this was such a draconian policy, the city would get more revenues from sales tax if free parking were the norm.

iRun

August 30th, 2012
11:19 am

I believe my post is stuck in the spam filter due to the link I included. The link is safe for work and just leads to a site that compiles information against Reflex, the Australian company hired by many American cities to run traffic-based revenue.

Julia

August 30th, 2012
9:58 am

hey, the parking contract is working out so great, just like when Mayor Campbell contracted out he water department. let contract out or privatize ALL of government’s services & functions!!! isn’t that just a super swell idea!!! and let’s not stop with local, let’s take it all the way to the federal level.

Dumb and Dumber

August 30th, 2012
9:02 am

Mr. Moore, loved your little fictional essay, but as my friend Double-D used to say: “Don’t swing that nose at me Pinochio” — I live near Little 5 Points and can give you many examples of ParkAtlanta excess:

ParkAtlanta ticketed over 25 cars in three days between Elizabeth and Hurt Street on Euclid Avenue — however there are no parking restrictions or meters on that section of Euclid. My nephew got three of the tickets. He called the city, they said call ParkAtlanta; he called ParkAtlanta and they said call the city. I helped him put together his defense (based on city parking ordinances and map) and he went to court and the tickets were dismissed (the Judge had some choice words for your company). You would say the system worked. I would say you abused your authority and 22 other people paid the fine rather than go to court. But you and the city win, we the people lose.

I no longer patronize any business where I have to park on the street — I’ve seen people pay the meter, get a receipt and then get a ticket. When they ask the ParkAtlanta employee and show them the receipt — they are told that the receipt is not evidence and according to your system, the parking meter was not paid. Rather than fight the ticket and lose a day of work, they pay.

I know ParkAtlanta cannot help it — its a for profit company who makes money by issuing tickets — thus you write tickets whether they are warranted or not. I blame the City Council (yes, you to Kwanzaa) and the Mayor. They know this contract is killing small business, yet they do nothing.

What to we do now? Shop and eat in Decatur. Sure you pay to park there, but no privatized parking means you can support local businesses and not get fleeced for bogus parking fines by the City of Atlanta and ParkAtlanta.

steve dalton

August 30th, 2012
7:15 am

I now find out about parking availibility BEFORE I go to a location/event, etc. If a street meter is involved ( ParkAtlanta), I do not attend the event or shop at that location.

Jeff

August 29th, 2012
11:20 pm

I won’t patronize any business that requires on-street parking. Period. On my last (literally) experience they ticketed my car 3 minutes after the meter expired. I was paying attention to the time but not carefully enough it turns out.

There are enough alternatives that it just doesn’t make sense to take the chance on street parking.

Teresa

August 29th, 2012
4:34 pm

I guess we should not be surprised, but how frustrating is this. I won’t be supporting any downtown businesses any longer because I too got scammed & that is exactly what I feel it is. I was in a metered parking spot that only had an hour maximum which I have never read about. I actually moved the car two times making sure I moved it at least 5 mins before the meter ran out just in case by keeping my receipt & watching the time, triple checked to make sure was paying for the correct spot & when was about to move it a third time, found an attendant to see if I was reading the meter correctly to see if I had to move it a third time & asked if I was understanding the directions properly. We had finished our business we had come down to do, but wanted to go get some take out from a new restaurant but I would have to move the car again & it was looking like no more available spaces. She told me it was a 2 hour maximum, but I told her it said one hour & I had moved the car twice & asked then that if I were to put more money in before the meter ran out, would I be able to keep it there. She said she was the attendant for that street & as long as I had the money in there, I could go get my take out & not move the car again & not to worry. I fed the meter again for the same spot, we got our take out, came out & got in the car & left & I even waved goodbye to the attendant & a thank you & she waived back. No ticket, we left time on the meter since I had overestimated how long to get our take out just in case. I thought it was great, had heard the complaints on tv, but was glad nothing happened to us. Low and behold, 2 months later, I get a letter from ParkAtlanta saying I owe $70 ticket. Keep in mind, never had a ticket on the car, never had a first letter although this letter says I have not paid the ticket & now have a late fee, yet this letter has my license plate number on it. I call in to discuss & let them know must be a problem, explain how I had handled it that day & ask what happened. The person at ParkAtlanta informs me that they are showing I was in the same spot for 11 hours and tells me the spot number & asks me if I paid for that spot. I said I don’t still have the receipts that I know of, there were 3 for two different spots & I had no ticket when I came out so I doubted I still had them. She said could either waive my late fee if I paid today or I could go to court to dispute it. I realized then, that I had been had. But also realized it would cost me a lot more to go to court to dispute & what proof did I have? I told the person that I guess I would pay the reduced fine because it would cost me more to go to court, then she said let me put you on hold & I will find out if I can waive the late fee! Well, while I was on hold, I certainly was getting more & more upset because now she was saying she wasn’t sure she could waive it. In the end, they did & of course passed me over to somewhere to pay. That even scared me because now I was afraid I would pay & have no proof. My only comfort is that you end up being transferred to someone in Wisconsin, they take the cc# & at least give you a confirmation #. Hopefully this is the end of it, but documented all the names, times & confirmation # just in case. Then I found this blog. Next thing on my list is to see if I can call the governors office of consumer affairs & also call the restaurant where I bought the food to let them know what occurred & why I will not be able to come back as they are a brand new restaurant & just opened up that week. Maybe they got that location because ParkAtlanta is running customers away from downtown businesses. I know this one won’t be going back & I really loved this little restaurant I found with great home cooked Greek food.