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Friday, February 23, 2007

Revenues Way Down from Parking Enforcement

On Tuesday, Paul Navazio, the City Finance Directory presented the Mid-Year Budget Update. One area of serious short fall is in the area of parking citations and moving violations. The current revenue is 28.6% of the budgeted figure and they have now subsequently reduced the overall revenue estimate by over $700,000 to $778,567. This figure represents only 51.5% of the original budget estimate. As one can clearly see, this represents not a small shortfall but would could only be described as a massive shortfall.

Perhaps the most alarming factor is that this shortfall comes after a massive capital investment in both cameras at intersections and also new parking enforcement vehicles equipped with GPS locators. City planners had expected that these new enforcement mechanisms would make it easier to catch violators and thus increase the revenue.

Approved in May of 2005, this system was put into place due to a number of concerns. First, efficiency, the parking enforcement officers were said to not be able to effectively monitor all regulated districts in the City. This system would be capable of scanning over 1000 license plates per hour and would therefore increase both the area covered by a single officer and the number of vehicles that can be monitored. Moreover it would eliminate the chalk marking system and therefore eliminate the problem of violators removing the chalk marks rather than moving their vehicles.

This system was authorized at $81,000 one-time fee plus a $14,000 maintenance.

The obvious sell of that system from the staff report was this was a way to catch more violators. Instead, what has happened is that the new technology combined with the stricter prohibitions against reparking have encouraged citizens to take more care when parking to avoid citations and fines. In other words, the enforcement system is so good, that it has taken away incentive for people to violate the system.

The result of this expenditure for new technology has been a drastic decline in the number of citations and thus a massive shortfall from the projected budgeted revenue.

In previous blog entries we have lamented the fact that the city relies on fines as a source of revenue.

It is probably the reparking rules more than the new GPS enforcement vehicles that has led to the fewer citations. The budget shortfall would probably be worth it if the new policies freed up parking in the core downtown area. However, that does not appear to be the case. As we have written in the past, vehicles are now simply rotating from street to street and block to block rather than occupying a single space. The net result is the lack of street parking.

There are a number of lessons here. First, technology can at times be a double-edged sword. If the city's goal was to maintain a steady revenue from parking citations, they would have been better served not trying to fix a system that was already working well. The city got a bit too greedy believing that they could create a system that would be more efficient and would catch those who would have erased the chalk rather than moving the car. What I think they did not anticipate is that those people in a chalkless system would simply move their car.

Second, the city should not be budgeting revenue from fines. That leads to a perverse incentive structure where the city relies on people violating the law and when people do not violate the law, rather than being considered a good thing, it creates a problem.

Third, you cannot finesse parking problems using enforcement means. The city should re-examine how it chooses to deal with the issue of long-term parking in the core downtown area. It should then think about how to incorporate and accommodate individuals who come to the downtown in order to do shopping or perhaps have a meal during the day.

A few weeks ago the suggestion was offered that perhaps the city needs a parking commission because the safety commission deals primarily with other issues. While it is not clear that a 20th city commission is needed, there does need to be at least a permanent subcommittee examining the issue of parking, parking enforcement, revenue, and parking allocation in both neighborhoods but also in the core downtown area.

The city in this realm seems to have been too smart for its own good. By investing in new technology the city managed to reduce its revenue flow, the irony of this situation should not be lost on its residents.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting