Tulsa officials discuss upgrading city's flawed parking meter system
BY BRIAN BARBER World Staff Writer
Saturday, April 28, 2012
4/28/12 at 8:04 AM
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Downtown Tulsa's broken parking meter system can be cited an example of city government "incompetence," say some city councilors.
"When people who work downtown come to me, this is easily the first thing they bring up as an example of incompetence on the city's part," Councilor G.T. Bynum said during this week's council committee meetings.
"It's not just that parking meters aren't enforced well. Literally, there's blocks that don't have meters - or at least working ones."
The council learned more about the administration's plan to issue a request for proposals in May to have private companies supply new technology, operations and maintenance for the meter system.
Councilor Blake Ewing, who owns several downtown businesses, said the state of the meter system is a hurdle to revitalization.
"This is a problem that needs a solution," he said. "It's shameful the way it is working - or rather not working right now."
As previously reported by the Tulsa World, 44 percent of the city's 1,609 meters are out of order, and $600,000 in repairs are needed just to bring the system to a functioning level. Most of the mechanical meters are decades old.
About 140 of the meters are electronic, multispace versions, costing about $3,500 each, that have been installed over the past eight years but have had chronic battery issues and other operational problems.
As more of the meters have stopped working, the revenue they collect has dropped, providing less money for their maintenance and causing the system's death spiral, city officials said.
Management Review Office Director Vickie Beyer said companies will be asked to provide workable, proven models.
"We are going to ask proposers how they would manage the system assuming there's no changes to the rates, (parking) districts and hours and what it would take to get to a system that is healthy," she said.
The city is not looking to sell the system to a private firm, Beyer emphasized.
"Other cities have done that for a nice slug of up-front cash, but then they spend it in a very short time and no longer have control of their meters," she said.
Also, enforcement, because of state law dealing with parking violations, would remain under the city's purview, Beyer said.
"Of course, maintenance and operations of the meter system must go hand in hand with enforcement, so we'll have to have some kind of plan where those functions support each other," she said.
"We are looking to the experts in metered parking to give us recommendations on how we can do it better than we have been."
If a company secured a contract with the city, Beyer said, it could be paid with a cut of the revenue or a fixed fee.
Responses to the request for proposals will be due this summer, with a course of action expected to be determined by year's end.
Councilor Jack Henderson questioned whether going with a private company is a foregone conclusion.
"I don't see the only answer to be farming it out," he said.
Beyer assured him that the administration is not attached to any conclusion.
Bynum quipped, "As long as it's not what we've been doing, because that's been embarrassing."
Turning the meter system over to a private company to manage might end up being the best way to go, Bynum said.
"At least you would have someone incentivized to keep it up and running. Clearly the city has not been incentivized."
Downtown businesses need a predictable parking network to thrive, Ewing said.
"The outsourcing is all fine and good, if it's done right," he said. "I don't think it's ever been proven in my lifetime that we can do it right."
Metered parking is so poorly handled by the city that people who work downtown use them as full-time parking spots, Ewing said.
"What that does is hurt the restaurants, hair-cutting places and retail shops that need those spaces for their customers," he said.
"People need to be able to find a place to park, put in a couple of quarters, do their business and leave. Business owners are tired of seeing the same car parking in front of their door every day, all day."
City officials are meeting with downtown stakeholders for feedback about the request for proposals before it is issued.
If any changes are eventually made to the meter rates, which range from 10 to 50 cents per hour, and hours of operation, now from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, they would have to go to the council for approval.
Bringing in a private company to manage Tulsa's meter system is one of the re-commendations made by the KPMG efficiency of the city government that was completed in 2010.
Original Print Headline: Parking meter changes called for
Brian Barber 918-581-8322
Council Chairman G.T. Bynum: "This is easily the first thing (downtown workers) bring up as an example of incompetence on the city's part."
Parking inspector Deena Lane looks for improperly parked vehicles during her rounds in downtown Tulsa recently. MATT BARNARD/Tulsa World
A cover masks a malfunctioning parking meter in downtown Tulsa. MATT BARNARD/Tulsa World