Chattanooga parking enforcement goes private

Chattanooga parking enforcement goes private

August 21st, 2012 by Cliff Hightower in News

Parking meters line Broad Street in Chattanooga

Photo by Angela Lewis/Times Free Press.

BY THE NUMBERS

$20,000 Potential annual payment to Republic Parking System for parking enforcement.

2,000 Approximate number of parking meters in city.

5 Number of years the parking enforcement contract will last.

Source: Chattanooga Area Regional Transit Authority

POLL: Should downtown parking be privatized?

Republic Parking System soon will take over control of downtown parking enforcement.

Tom Dugan, executive director of the Chattanooga Area Regional Transit Authority, said Republic won a bid a few weeks ago and will begin Oct. 1.

The move to outsourcing to a private company comes just months after the City Council voted to allow CARTA to take over parking enforcement from the Chattanooga Police Department.

"This is pretty much the way cities are going," Dugan said.

But City Judge Russell Bean said he was "taken aback" when he learned that enforcement had been given to a private company. He and City Judge Sherry Paty have expressed their concerns with the new system because it allows an outside arbitrator to hear traffic cases and rule before the case goes to City Court.

"Sometimes they can make appeals so difficult, it won't reach court," Bean said.

Republic Parking officials did not respond to repeated calls for comment.

A five-year contract is now being drawn up between CARTA and Republic that will pay the company a fixed fee of about $20,000 annually, Dugan said. CARTA will reimburse the company for costs of labor and operations, but will not offer any more incentives beyond the annual fee, he said.

When the plan was proposed last year, Dugan said CARTA would give the city the same amount of parking fine revenue it received the previous year -- around $460,000. CARTA would keep anything above that, Dugan said. On Monday, he confirmed that is part of the agreement.

To handle parking enforcement, Republic is hiring technicians who will be required to go through a background check and also be approved by the City Council before they will be able to write tickets, Dugan said. They will not be sworn officers.

Richard Beeland, spokesman for Mayor Ron Littlefield, said the city's current police service technicians -- who now enforce parking codes -- will remain in city employment if they choose.

"We plan to transition the ones who would like to stay with the city to other positions available," he said.

City Council Chairwoman Pam Ladd said Monday she had no concerns with parking enforcement going to the private sector.

"That was the plan all along," she said.

She said Republic is a trained parking management company with a professional reputation.

"To me, it's a good, natural fit," she said.

Other cities have outsourced their parking to private companies in the past. In 2009, Atlanta contracted with Duncan Solutions Inc. out of Minnesota for its PARK-atlanta program. But the parking enforcement program has been littered with allegations of aggressive ticket writing in order to produce revenue, according to media reports.

Gary Means, executive director of the Lexington & Fayette County Parking Authority in Kentucky, said there is a different response to parking in his city, which also uses Republic Parking.

"A lot of people think when they hear outsourcing there is a lack of control," he said, but that's not the case.

The contract spells out everything the parking enforcement company can do, he said.

Contact staff writer Cliff Hightower at chightower@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6480. Follow him at twitter.com/cliffhightower or facebook.com/cliff.hightower.