While Royal Oak’s new downtown parking meter system got off to a bumpy start, city officials say they are working with the contractor who owns and operates the system to fix problems vexing many users.
The city more than a week ago made all on-street and lot metered parking free through the end of the month, giving officials an interim to deal with the problems..
City Manager Paul Brake said the system became operational more than a month ago.
“Since then we’ve (learned) of concerns that have arisen and we are addressing them,” he said.
City commissioners Brandon Kolo, Monica Hunt and Sharlan Douglas asked the city for an update on issues with the meters and violations this month based on complaints.
Metro Parking Services Inc. owns and operates about 800 metered spots in Royal Oak and also mails parking violations to motorists. Large kiosk meters have cameras that photograph the license plates of parked vehicles. MPS evenly splits revenue from the system with the city’s parking fund.
“We are taking a lot of the feedback and working with MPS to make this transition (to the new meters) as smooth as we can,” said Royal Oak Interim Police Chief Michael Moore.
Complaints about the new system include functions of some meters, the Sentry Mobile parking app, inaccurate fine amounts, and the plain white envelopes first used to mail tickets to violators.
Kolo said there have been software problems related to the new parking app.
“There are numerous issues of people being charged after they leave” their parking spot, Kolo said.
The initial envelopes have been replaced so they have Royal Oak’s city logo on them. Moore said the city is moving to have a red banner across the top of the ticket envelopes that identify it as a violation.
Parking meter fines are $20 if paid on time.
However, the 14-day deadline to pay has been affected because the tickets are mailed and motorists typically don’t know they have been ticketed until days after the violation. City officials are considering whether to extend the time people have to pay the tickets.
There is confusion over how the new meter system works with many motorists. Part of that may well be because the system is significantly different from the city’s previous meters.
People are allowed up to five minutes to pay, or they can pay up if they exceed their paid time before they leave if they are still within the two-hour time limit at on-street meters.
Unlike traditional meters where tickets are written and left under a wiper blade on the windshield, there is no ticket issued at the time of the violation.
The biggest change is that a motorist can no longer park in a spot without paying and not be ticketed. All violators are ticketed now. It is estimated that only 40 percent of motorists fed the meters in Royal Oak with the older traditional meters.
“The goal here isn’t to have more parking tickets,” said Mayor Michael Fournier. “The goal is to have more compliance” with people paying for parking time while not exceeding the two-hour limit.
City officials have said on-street meters are meant to have turnover, so that multiple people can use a parking spot each day while visiting downtown businesses. Those who come for longer visits are encouraged to use city parking decks, where parking is free for two hours up to 5 p.m.
The MPS system started issuing tickets Dec. 6 – a month after sending out 8,490 warning notices as people got used to the system.
From Dec. 6 until last week, police said 52,406 motorists parked at the new meters. Of those 33,824 paid for parking and got no violation. But 14,481 motorists got tickets, while about 6,700 avoided tickets by paying for more time.
City Commissioner Patricia Paruch said the city needs to communicate the changes in the new parking system.
“This is a huge change,” she said, adding it will take time for people to get used to the MPS system. “If you pull into a spot it automatically starts billing you. This is a mind set that is completely different” from what it was before
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