Are you sitting on a bunch of unpaid parking tickets? Do you hate being a meter-feeder? Have you gotten used to being able to park illegally with virtual impunity?
Well, soon it's gonna suck to be you.
For more than a year now, there's been almost no parking enforcement in Atlanta. There were only three meter maids patrolling the entire city.
How did that happen? As has become typical with Atlanta, it seems to have been a case of bad timing, poor planning and bureaucratic fumbling.
Last spring, when city officials realized thay were looking at a serious budget shortfall, they decided to privatize parking enforcement as a way to trim payroll. So, in May, during the first round of city layoffs, Mayor Franklin sacked the staff of meter-readers.
Soon after, however, new Public Works Commissioner Joe Basista broke it to the administration that the city couldn't afford to replace its existing coin-operated meters with new-fangled multi-space meters that accept credit cards, as had been planned. Next, someone realized that the request for proposals that had been drawn up to solicit bids from contractors was flawed and needed to be rewritten. Apparently, each of these setbacks took months to iron out.
In the meantime, the city was losing several hundred thousand dollars a month in revenue from parking tickets that weren't being written. (Granted, cops can and do write tickets if they catch you in a no-parking zone, but they rarely bother with expired meters.)
Now, at long last, the city is ready to sign a contract. The chosen company is Milwaukee-based Duncan Solutions, which already manages parking enforcement for Las Vegas, Pittsburgh and its hometown. Councilwoman Clair Muller, who chairs the Council's Transportation Committee, says Duncan uses sophisticated hand-held units that print tickets faster and transmit information back and forth with traffic court via a wireless network.
But here's the news that you'll really care about: Duncan boots and tows. That's right, kids. There's a new sheriff in town.
Last August, the AJC reported that Atlanta had more than $10 million in unpaid parking tickets. There were nearly 200 people who owed more than $1,000. That's because the city was all talk and no action: If you didn't pay a ticket, it would get turned over to a collection agency which would call and ask you nicely for the money.
Once the Duncan contract has been approved, Muller says, the company will use an automated system to read license plates and flag cars with outstanding tickets. If the system shows that you have at least three unpaid tickets or $100 in overdue fines, you get the boot.
The city estimates it'll collect $5.7 million in parking fines annually with Duncan on the job not counting old violations that people thought they'd gotten away with. Assuming the contract is finally approved at the first Council meeting in July, Muller guesses it will take Duncan a couple of months to get its system up and working.
That gives everybody until September to park downtown for free and to put off paying your old tickets. After that comes the crackdown.
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