Revamped parking system could yield additional $3M annually for Cincinnati

As Cincinnati faces the challenge of closing a $50 million budget gap this year a wide variety of solutions are bound to be presented. The most likely solutions will revolve around making deep cuts to the services and operations of Cincinnati city government.

There is a risk that recreational, planning, public safety, and health services could all be reduced. There is also a real possibility that some, possibly many, people will be out of a job once the cuts are finalized. While some cuts might be necessary during this stage of the game, and while controlling expenses is important, it has been seen that cutting costs to improve profitability rarely results in long-term benefits. Quite simply, you can not cut your way to prosperity.

To that end, Cincinnati must find ways to grow its revenues annually to help offset growing liabilities associated with employee legacy costs and an insatiable appetite for more public safety spending.

In 2009, Cincinnati collected roughly $8.91 million from its on-street parking meters, off-street parking garages and parking lots. Parking garage collections account for more than half of the total collections, while parking lots and parking meters account for nearly a quarter each of the remainder.

Historically public parking assets have been seen as keeping parking rates artificially low. Presumably this is to make urban environments more appealing to a temporary suburban workforce and shopping base that is used to vast seas of open and subsidized parking that is free in their suburban domains. These public assets should be treated, I believe, in a way that maximizes their revenues.

The City of Atlanta recently engaged in a new public-private partnership with Duncan Solutions, Inc. The partnership has resulted in the creation of PARKatlanta which is jointly overseen by the City of Atlanta and Duncan Solutions.

Duncan is tasked with managing Atlanta’s on-street parking services and assets. This means that while the City of Atlanta maintains ownership of its parking meters and right-of-way, Duncan Solutions will maintain the meters and regulatory signage, parking meter collections, on-street parking and right-of-way regulation enforcement, parking citation processing and delinquent collection services, and vehicle booting and towing services.

The financials of this partnership include an upfront annual payment of $5.5 million from Duncan Solutions to the City of Atlanta over the course of the seven year contract. In addition to the guaranteed money, the contract calls for the installation of more than 200 multi-space parking meter pay stations that accept various forms of payment similar to the 12 Pay And Display Meters found on 3rd and Court streets in downtown Cincinnati.

The public-private partnership is not only growing a source of revenue within Atlanta’s budget, but it is also offering a guaranteed income stream over the next seven years and is improving the quality of the parking meters by replacing dated meters with multi-space pay stations.

The comparison between Atlanta and Cincinnati is striking. Prior to Atlanta’s contract with Duncan Solutions, Atlanta had 900 parking meters which grew to 2,500 under the new partnership. Cincinnati currently has more than 5,700 parking meters. So while Cincinnati has more than double the number of parking meters, it collects less than half the revenue. On average a parking meter in Cincinnati collects approximately $428 annually, while a parking meter in Atlanta collects $2,200.

The two cities obviously have their differences in terms of parking demands and rates charged, but the gap in collections is striking. Cincinnati should explore a similar public-private partnership of their own that would improve the City’s on-street parking assets while also growing revenues. If a similar seven year term could be signed in Cincinnati, it would result in an additional $3.06 million annually.

  • David Cole

    It’s certainly an idea worth considering; parking rates in Cincinnati seem incredibly low compared to other cities. The city would be wise to avoid the fiasco that Chicago created by privatizing their on-street parking enforcement, however. Chicago vastly increased rates and awarded the contract to a politically-connected company that immediately began ticketing and towing people who were legally parked, and made it almost impossible for people to contest illegitimate citations. It became simply a cash cow for the city and the vendor, as opposed to a means of enforcing parking regulations. It was the closest thing to a popular revolt Chicago has seen in years.

    It also goes without saying that we need to greatly improve public transit if we’re really serious about discouraging parking. This includes the streetcar, regional rail, and improved bus service. Atlanta and Chicago already have the advantage of a regional rail system.

  • http://sweenbud.com Nick

    We need to pay for what we use. A third of NYC traffic are cars looking for empty parking spaces. It’d be great if we could implement electronic meters that can fluctuate prices based on demand like they have in San Francisco (http://sf.streetsblog.org/2009/10/15/donald-shoup-calls-san-francisco-parking-meter-study-pathbreaking/). Check out the MTA Study done last year (http://sf.streetsblog.org/2009/10/13/mta-releases-parking-meter-study-that-proposes-extending-hours/). DC has a cool system, too (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=127839828).

    If I need to park for ten minutes, I pay for ten minutes, not an hour; likewise, if I park for an hour and a half, I pay for ninety minutes. Why should parking be free? Office space isn’t free. Pay-as-you-go parking allows for more walking and window-shopping, as well.

  • Nate

    I know CUF is and I understand Corryville to be very interested in regulating their parking. Currently, I think the biggest issue is lack of available spaces for residents, but a market based solution to the parking problem with the revenue necessarily coming from it may be coming in the next couple of years :D

    I am doing some research on CUF’s parking situation and formulating a recommendation that will definitely involve some charges where currently there are none.

  • ElResidente

    David Cole, The City of Chicago did put their rates up too quickly AND at the same time as transitioning to a private company. This was a classic blunder that could have easily been avoided by a gradual phase in, but the city chose the maximum money up front option. The operator that the City chose from the competitive bidding process neither had any control over rates, nor had the right to tow cars or write tickets. Those things are simply incorrectly reported in the press and then repeated by others. The Mayor admitted that City staff did a poor job with the transition. This was compounded by a woeful first few weeks by the new operator, but to be fair, they had 50 years of city mismanagement to undo in just weeks.

  • http://www.UrbanCincy.com/ Randy A. Simes

    Nate:

    I think residential parking permits would be a great way to go for Cincinnati. In fact, the great difference in the number of meters between Cincinnati (5,700) and Atlanta after the increase (2,500) is due in large part to this.

    Residential parking permits exist all over Atlanta’s intown neighborhoods, and it would seem to be a good solution for Cincinnati as well. It would allow for lower maintenance and operational costs annually, while providing the service levels desired throughout the city’s neighborhoods. At the same time, the residential parking permits would offer a more steady and reliable form of money than the change collected from a parking meter.