Tulsa officials blame inconsistency for meter problem
BY ZACK STOYCOFF World Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
1/16/13 at 9:46 AM
A 38 percent drop in Tulsa's parking meter revenue since 2006 can be blamed at least partly on inconsistent enforcement and maintenance - the two areas that would be drastically improved by a proposal to upgrade the meter system, officials said.
Mayor Dewey Bartlett has asked the City Council to consider raising parking meter rates to up to $2 per hour and lengthening their operating hours as the city seeks to fund an additional enforcement officer and privatize the system's maintenance.
A city review committee in October recommended hiring Tulsa-based American Parking to replace hundreds of meters, oversee maintenance for five years and ensure that at least 98 percent of the city's meters are working.
The projected cost of that contract - $530,550 - more than doubles the $225,000 collected by Tulsa's parking meters last year. With the higher rates, a fully functioning meter system would fund the contract and increased enforcement with up to $269,450 to spare, city consultant Michael Brink estimates.
The goal, Bartlett said in an interview this week, is "to have a system that at least breaks even."
Parking meters collected $365,423 in 2006, city data show. The number dwindled to $202,510 in 2010 before inching up to $211,398 in 2011 and rising again last year.
Meanwhile, the number of parking citations issued citywide fell from 43,614 in 2001 to 11,951 in 2011, or 73 percent, with overall citation revenue falling from $358,773 to $169,951.
That includes all parking violations, but likely two-thirds were downtown, where parking meter violations are most common, said city prosecutor Bob Garner, whose office prosecutes municipal parking violations.
The declines can be blamed partly on the removal of meters during the construction of the BOK Center, but frequently broken meters and a lack of enforcement have contributed profoundly, officials said.
"The city has not maintained those meters in the fashion that we probably should be maintaining them, due to funds," Garner said. "There just wasn't money in the budget and something has to give."
He said a shortage of workers has kept the city from repairing broken meters for extended periods of time. At one point, entire blocks in a high-traffic area near the former city hall building were offline for months, he said.
Those meters have since been repaired, which may have contributed to the recent increase in revenue, he added.
"It got really bad because we had people coming in our office all the time complaining that it wasn't taking money, it's jammed - just a variety of reasons," Garner said.
In a recent inventory, 44 percent of single-space meters were offline, Brink said.
A private company, he argued, could maintain a standard "that the city has never been able to achieve itself."
Meanwhile, the city has cut a position from its team of full-time parking enforcement officers and now has two.
Those officers are difficult to retain because the position is seen as entry-level, so there is often just one, Garner said. New officers must be trained during meter hours, further harming enforcement efforts, he said.
Brink said downtown business owners said at recent public meetings that inconsistent enforcement was their most pressing concern about the meters.
Under the deal with American Parking, the city would reinstate its third parking enforcement officer and spend $140,000 of the meter system's additional revenue on enforcement.
Revenue from parking meter citations is projected to increase slightly to $225,000, but Brink stressed that officials do not expect a significant increase in the number of tickets.
Nothing in the deal "is incentive for anyone to write more tickets," he said.
The Tulsa Parking Authority would administer the contract with American Parking. The deal would be expected shortly after the City Council approves the higher rates, Brink said.
A city committee is set to discuss the rates on Thursday.
Parking meter proposal
Current: 10 to 25 cents per half hour
Proposed: Financial district (four blocks centered on Boston Avenue and Fifth Street) - 50 cents for the first 30 minutes; then $2 per hour
West, central and east areas - $1 per hour
Southern areas - 30 cents per hour
Current: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., weekdays
Proposed: 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., weekdays
Original Print Headline: Meters may rise to $2
Zack Stoycoff 918-581-8486
Bystanders watch as parking inspector Deena Lane writes a ticket as she patrols downtown on Tuesday. Mayor Dewey Bartlett has asked the City Council to consider raising parking meter rates to up to $2 per hour. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World
Parking inspector Deena Lane patrols downtown on Tuesday. The number of parking citations issued citywide fell from 43,614 in 2001 to 11,951 in 2011. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World