Technology boosts parking management
Instead of manually tracking thousands of parking tickets and permits, two cities — Aspen, Colo., and Allentown, Pa. — have updated their parking management technology and saved shoe leather in the process. New technologies are allowing parking operations to share data with other departments, generate revenue and streamline operations.
In the resort community of Aspen, parking management has changed dramatically since the early 1990s. Aspen has a population base of 5,200 but imports 11,000 workers daily from as far as 75 miles away. With tourists, the daily population swells to about 25,000. Aspen, however, has only 850 parking spaces in the commercial core, 3,000 residential and 350 public spaces. “Literally, there were cars sitting and waiting for parking spaces to open up downtown,” says Tim Ware, parking director for the city.
“We had a very aggressive City Council in the early ‘90s that said ‘Let’s put in paid parking,’” Ware says. The city installed parking meters mid-block. For coins, motorists received receipts stamped with a parking expiration time to place on their dashboards. Two employees checked the receipts over the entire downtown area. The city purchased 27 parking machines for $6,800 each in 1994 and today owns 60.
As a result of installing parking meters, the city noticed more commuters taking the bus. “When we put in paid parking, we experienced a 35 percent increase in ridership across the board. We also saw our 98 percent occupancy in the downtown core go down to 67 percent,” Ware says.
Through the paid parking system, $1.2 million annually now is collected from the meters with an additional $500,000 collected from ticketing. The money is applied to alternative transportation, such as buses and bike paths.
Aspen traffic officers use hand-held ticket writers purchased from Indianapolis-based T2 Systems. Everyday, information from the portable computers is downloaded into a central database. The portable ticket writers eliminate manual data entry and are more reliable, Ware says. The computers also keep track of the number of tickets issued to vehicles and indicate if towing is necessary. In addition, the new system allows the city to integrate parking information from the field to deposits in the finance department.
Allentown, Pa., switched to portable ticket writers in 2002. Linda Kauffman, executive director of the Allentown Parking Authority, says the authority is responsible for 5,000 off-street parking spaces, 4,000 on-street metered spaces and those marked for specifically allotted parking times. It also is in charge of citywide enforcement for all parking violations and provides all city towing services except for accident and crime scenes.
“We now have the ability to integrate all of our operations into one database system,” Kauffman says. Before, the parking authority had a manual system that kept track of customers, parking lots, garages, ticket collection and the intricate permitting process. The $250,000 it cost to switch parking management systems came from the parking authority’s capital improvements budget and included 18 handhelds, software, training, specialization and maintenance agreements. “It has paid for itself 10 times over in efficiency,” Kauffman says.
In the end, automating parking management to include paid parking and handheld ticket writers is not necessarily about upgrading technology, Kauffman says, but rather streamlining operations. For city and county governments who choose to streamline, the benefits also include savings and parking revenues that can help achieve a healthier environment and bottom line.