FOX19 Investigates Privatized parking in Cincinnati OH - | WBTV Charlotte

FOX19 Investigates: Privatized parking in Cincinnati


Cincinnati's Administration is continuing to pursue a public-private partnership option to overhaul the city's parking system.

Just this week officials from the Indianapolis mayors office say they sat down with folks from Cincinnati's City Manager's Office to talk about their parking partnership.

While last years' revenues are still being tallied in Indianapolis, they're projecting over two million dollars to come in. The mayor's office says that is roughly six times what the local government made when it was running the show.

"The city has no risk. All we do is cash the checks," said Marc Lotter, spokesperson for the Indianapolis Mayor's Office.

Since 2010 the City of Indianapolis has partnered with the private sector to overhaul their parking system.

"We learned from the mistakes that some of the other cities have made," Lotter said. "We think we're doing it very well."

Lotter argues the private partnership has done what city government could not.

"Improved efficiency, improved technology, you got rid of those ugly, old, rusty poles that were dotting our sidewalks, and we're getting more money in the end," he argued.

Now Cincinnati's administration is taking cues from its neighbor down I-74.

"They're a Midwestern city," city spokesperson Meg Olberding said. "They have similar sensibilities to us and they have been very successful."

Instead of the old coin machines drivers can now use their smart phones to scan codes to set the time, or go to one of the boxes and use a credit, or debit card. The Park Mobile app allows drivers to increase parking or pay for parking without ever having to go to a meter.

The company has even installed sensors in the road so that drivers can use a smart phone app to find out where the open spaces are around town. 

"It's fine city, it's a lot to be proud of in Indianapolis," resident Kevin McCarthy said. "The downside though is that the technology doesn't even work."

Even when it does work, McCarthy argues there are other concerns.

"Yeah it's good technology but is it being used to help the citizen or is it being used to drive revenue for a private company?" McCarthy questioned.

Kevin McCarthy argues the same technology that alerts him his meter time is running up can alert the parking management to the same information.

"They'll race to your car before you have a chance to update your parking session," he told FOX19.

FOX19 reached out to ParkIndy, LLC for comment on their work in Indianapolis, but a spokesperson declined comment since the company put in a bid for Cincinnati's request for proposals on the parking partnership.

"I think there has been an increase in tickets overall but that's also because we've extended the hours when the meters are in effect and also the number of days that are in effect," Lotter said.

A downtown Indy businessman says the weekends were free before, but now just Sundays are free.

Another not-so-popular change is the increased change the meter eats up every hour.

"I feel like I should be able to park on my own streets at a reasonable price," McCarthy argued.

"In order to bring the rates up to where they should be they effectively, well they did, double them over the course of a year," downtown comic store owner Doug Stephenson said.

Stephenson says while the initial rate hike, agreed on in the contract, shocked many drivers he says it has helped keep the customers moving through the doors.

"Just as many people park at the meters as they did before," he told FOX19. "The only thing you do notice is there's more of a rotation of cars. You don't see the same car, sitting in the same spot all day long."

The city argues with meter rates staying the same for over 30 years going from .75 cents to a $1.50 was no big change.

"It actually encouraged people to park and feed the meters and businesses were telling us ‘We need turnover,'" Lotter said.

"It needed to be done," one local resident agreed. 

While drivers may be dealing in quarters, the mayor is championing the millions the new system is generating for the city.

Indianapolis took a $20 million lump sum up front and signed a 50 year contract with outs every 10.

"I think everyone views this as being a wild success. Had that been another experience that does give the tax payers a protection," Lotter said.

Cincinnati's administration is also looking to strike a balance.

"We do have short term needs, there's no doubt about that, but we also have long term needs and we have to be able to invest in our parking system long term," Olberding said.

The cities do differ, however, on how the money can be spent. In Indianapolis they cannot use the money for operational expenses.

"We only use it for investments," Lotter explained. "We don't use it to support the budget."

In fact, he says a state law mandates they use the money on infrastructure in areas where the parking meters are in place like a new garage going up in the Broad Ripple neighborhood.

"We, along with many cities, have an infrastructure budget hole," Lotter told FOX19.

In Cincinnati, instead of closing off the operational option, the partnership would open it up.

"It really unlocks that pot of money for us to be able to use it for other things," Olberding explained.

In Indianapolis, they recognize every city is different.

"I wouldn't say just because Indianapolis did it this way that Cincinnati or another city should follow suit," Lotter said. "At some point you have to trust the leaders of those cities to work for the best interest of their citizens."

"The City of Cincinnati gets to make their own decision," McCarthy said. "I wish we hadn't made the decision in Indianapolis that we did."

Currently the meter rates in Cincinnati vary. On Liberty Street, a quarter will get drivers half-an-hour while that same .25 cents only equates to eight minutes at City Hall.

Olberding says Cincinnati officials, like those in Indy, are not willing to give up all say in parking. Exactly how things will change, however, will depend on how much the city is willing to compromise in the contract.

She says no full-time employees will lose their jobs in the deal. She says they will have to option to stay on with the company or take another job with the City.

Cincinnati's administration is reviewing the nine proposals from companies looking to partner with the city. They plan to have a recommendation to council by the end of the month or early March.

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