published Monday, January 6th, 2014

60,000 citations issued in Chattanooga’s first year of private enforcement

Chris King of the Chattanooga Parking Authority uses a small vehicle to scan tags and geotag their location on M.L. King Boulevard in this May file photo. He uses the information to verify that people are complying with the two-hour time limit for parking.
Chris King of the Chattanooga Parking Authority uses a small vehicle to scan tags and geotag their location on M.L. King Boulevard in this May file photo. He uses the information to verify that people are complying with the two-hour time limit for parking.
Photo by Dan Henry.
  • photo
    A Chattanooga Parking Authority ambassador places a ticket under a windshield wiper in downtown Chattanooga.
    Photo by Dan Henry.
    enlarge photo

Poll
Have you gotten a parking ticket downtown?

BY THE NUMBERS

Revenue collected per month:

* October 2012: $1,400

• November 2012: $48,132

• December 2012: $72,555

• January 2013: $78,959

• February 2013: $70,529

• March 2013: $76,125

• April 2013: $91,074

* May 2013: $82,217

* June 2013: $68,653

* July 2013: $75,835

* August 2013: $81,272

* September 2013: $85,330

* October 2013: $95,959

TOTALS

* $928,040: Revenue collected since the Chattanooga Parking Authority took over in October 2012.

* $421,505: Revenue collected by Chattanooga over the entire 2011-2012 fiscal year.

CITATIONS

* 60,202: Citations issued from October 2012-2013

192: Average number of citations issued per day

* The average per day could be higher. This number was calculated for Monday-Saturday; some areas downtown are only enforced Monday-Friday.

WHERE YOUR LATE FEES GO

After 10 days the cost of a ticket goes up from $11 to $41.50.

Of the $41.50:

$1 — to state taxes

$5 — to the Fire and Police Pension Fund

$ 3 — to the city’s technology fund

$32.50 left for Chattanooga Parking Authority, which is split with the city

CREDIT OR CASH?

The Chattanooga Parking Authority installed credit card machines that cover 600 meters and collected data around the busiest zones.

Aquarium Plaza: 34 percent credit cards, 66 percent coins

Riverfront: 46 percent credit card , 54 percent coin

City center: 28 percent credit cards, 72 percent coins

Northshore: 41 percent credit card, 59 percent coins

Source: Chattanooga Parking Authority

Chattanooga’s new parking regime is either hurting local businesses or re-energizing the Scenic City’s downtown core. It depends on whom you ask.

The city’s meter readers are using new technology and aggressive enforcement to clear out deadbeat parkers and reopen spaces to customers who are willing to pay.

But there’s a price to hiring CARTA’s green-clad parking enforcers to police a citizenry used to parking wherever and whenever it seems convenient.

For Terri Myers, the price of parking starts at $180 a month for two parking spots across the street from the Cherry Street Diner, named for the street on which it sits.

But her lot fills easily, and the small-business owner said she has to pay twice by parking on the street — if those spaces aren’t taken — and even if she can get one she must move her car every two hours when the meter expires or get a citation.

This problem escalated to the point Myers is considering looking for space in a nearby city to move her diner and avoid the parking hassle altogether.

“Chattanooga needs to do something about parking before they lose a lot of business and businesses,” she said.

But Brent Matthews, director of operations for the Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority, says parking has improved since the quasi-governmental agency began outsourcing parking enforcement to a private company.

In the year since CARTA contracted with Republic Parking System and formed the Chattanooga Parking Authority, parking enforcement has become more consistent, the number of tickets issued topped 60,000 and ticket revenue doubled to more than $900,000.

That averages out to about 192 citations a day.

Matthews said the change has made parking on the curb more convenient and freed up spaces downtown, something he says merchants appreciate.

At least one city councilman wants more answers.

Councilman Ken Smith, chairman of the Transportation Committee, said he has heard that more aggressive enforcement deters business downtown. He has also heard that it frees up much-needed parking spaces. He said officials need to address the many questions the public has.

He said he will hold a public meeting in the next two months to ask CARTA questions about transportation, including parking enforcement. Smith said he needs more information before he can decide whether the current agreement makes the best sense for the city.

One of Smith’s biggest concerns is that Republic Parking, the company CARTA subcontracted with, is enforcing the metered spaces and at the same time has a vested interest in parking spaces since the company owns most of the surface lots in town.

“It’s definitely a touchy subject,” Smith said. “The goal should be for multiple consumers to patronize businesses. … If that’s not the goal we’re serving we need to revisit [parking enforcement.]”

•••

The increase in ticket revenue benefits everyone, Matthews said, because it means extra cash for parking expenses and could go to pay for future capital projects. For example, he said, there’s talk of a need for a parking deck in the 700 block of Market Street where Center Park now sits.

City code regulates where the money must go, such as building, maintaining or replacing parking equipment, garages or facilities, making the parking system safer and providing downtown shuttle service.

“There’s never a profit,” Matthews said.

The parking authority’s contract also mandates that the city be paid $480,000 for the next two years, money that goes to pay for the city’s current police service technicians. Then in the third year, the city will get half of that amount — $240,000.

Matthews also noted that drivers now can pay their parking fees by credit card or log onto a universal parking app and pay by phone with a 35-cent user’s fee.

Parking officials said they have received positive feedback from many business owners, who used to complain that downtown employees clogged up the limited street spaces. Since the parking authority took over, officials started to enforce the two-hour limit at meters. And restaurant workers were offered space in a Republic parking lot for a discounted rate between $15 and $20 a month.

“Nobody likes getting a ticket, but we’ve been able to free up a lot of meter spaces that weren’t there before,” Matthews said. “It’s encouraging more turnover and creating more space downtown.”

Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafe manager Russell Barker agrees.

Since he started working at the cafe on Market Street, he’s seen the on-street parking spaces in front of the restaurant free. And for a place with a host of competitors all competing for the same limited parking spaces, “it makes a huge difference,” Barker said.

•••

Critics of the changes wonder who is policing the enforcers.

Aaron Welch, who piloted Iron Labs as part of a short-term pop-up business on the corner of M.L. King Boulevard and Chestnut Street, said parking enforcement took a turn for the worse when the parking authority took over for the city.

Welsh began taking photos of drivers getting tickets for unloading and loading in front of businesses or for what he called petty offenses like being inches over a yellow line on the sidewalk.

“It was subjective to the person writing the ticket,” Welch said. “It’s hard parking downtown, period. This discourages people from wanting to come.”

Others cite the same experience.

“I was working for Chattanooga Gas and got a ticket for pulling my truck to the side with flashers on and working on a gas meter,” Mike Kinsey wrote on the Times Free Press Facebook page.

A post from Zak Davis read: “Got a ticket for parking in the loading zone at my work and that’s why I parked there, to unload material.”

CARTA Executive Director Lisa Maragnano said enforcers only ticket people for violating the city’s traffic codes. The enforcers have a list of guidelines set by the city. And police officers can still ticket people for illegal parking, which means more eyes are watching.

The process of fighting a citation also has changed since Chattanooga Parking Authority took over.

When Chattanooga police conducted parking enforcement, all tickets went through Chattanooga City Court. Once a week, City Court Judge Russell Bean held ticket hearings for one hour. Drivers could also appeal their ticket by writing him a letter.

“When I heard the cases I tried to temper justice with mercy,” Bean said. “There’s all kinds of defenses.”

One defense that would often cause Bean to reduce the cost of the ticket was when a person who was registered as handicapped parked in a handicapped parking spot but forgot to use his placard. Another he would dismiss altogether was when someone had to park at Erlanger hospital to get to the emergency room.

Since the Parking Authority took over, no one has appealed a hearing decision up to the City Court level, Bean said.

City Transportation Director Blythe Bailey said the new process to appeal a ticket has given people more options rather than just going through the court.

“All citations are photographed when they are issued, so the staff uses these records to determine if there was an error,” he said.

Maragnano explained the options.

First a person can appeal a ticket on the website or by phone. The parking authority can then dismiss the citation or schedule a hearing with a special appointed board. At that hearing, the parking authority has attorneys on retainer to offer legal services for free, Maragnano said. If a person doesn’t agree with the board, they can then appeal to City Court.

Numbers tracked by the parking authority show that, of the 60,200 citations issued within the first year, 59 people received a hearing for their citation. That means that roughly one of out every thousand people ticketed gets a hearing.

And of those 59 people, 41 had their citations reduced to warnings or voided.

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at jlukachick@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659.

about Joy Lukachick...

Joy Lukachick is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press Since 2009, she's covered breaking news, high-profile trials, stories of lost lives and of regained hope and done investigative work. Raised near the Bayou, Joy’s hometown is along the outskirts of Baton Rouge, La. She has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication from Louisiana State University. While at LSU, Joy was a staff writer for the Daily Reveille. When Joy isn't chasing ...

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