Board recommends new management contract for parking operations

The city  is in the process of developing a new parking operations and management contract.

The city received four proposals by the Oct. 30 deadline and a review committee ranked them, then interviewed two of the companies.

The committee included city staff and representatives from the city’s Parking Advisory Commission.

City approves purchase of new parking meters, LPR technology and associated fees

The group selected SP+, the city’s current contractor, and on Dec. 17, the PAC voted to recommend that the City Commission approved the three-year contract.

The contract hasn’t yet been scheduled on a City Commission agenda.

City considering fees associated with modern parking enforcement technology

Earlier this year, the commission approved a one-year extension of the parking contract with SP+ while staff considered options for a long-term parking management lease agreement under which an entity would lease and maintain all of the city’s parking assets, including garages, lots and meters as well as operate the enforcement program. The city would maintain ownership of those assets, but the downtown parking system would essentially be privatized.

The original agreement was approved in 2011 and renewed with three-year contracts since. It’s also been amended to add tasks including snow removal contracting and back-office software purchase and maintenance.

City continuing with plan to upgrade to pay stations, license plate readers for downtown parking

The city has about 1,100 on-street parking meters, six off-street lots with a total of 334 spaces, a 498 stall parking garage and a 311 stall parking garage.

Off-street lots use leases and honor boxes.

The city is working with SP+, it’s current contractor to replace about 200 of the existing coin operated on-street meters with 14 pay stations on Central Avenue before the new contract is finalized, plus one in each of the city’s garages. They’re also working on implementing a license plate reader enforcement system and associated software upgrades.

Parking meter key recovered, city considering options

Craig Raymond, city planning director, said the pay stations have been ordered and the contractor said the equipment should arrive at the end of December or in January.

There’s a lot of prep work to be done before installing them and Raymond said he’s spoken with City Manager Greg Doyon about the timing of reinstating paid parking downtown. Raymond said that the equipment arrival won’t mean the pay stations are going out immediately since Doyon is still concerned about how some downtown businesses are faring due to COVID-19 and the moratorium on parking was a measure to help support those businesses.

In November, the City Commission approved the purchase of the multi-space pay stations and the fees associated with the new equipment and software.

City considering license plate recognition, pay stations for downtown parking enforcement

The Parking Advisory Commission had discussed the possibility of switching to modern meters for years, but after a March break-in at the parking office in the North Parking Garage, the conversation picked up steam. During the break-in, a meter key went missing, which gave access to all of the city’s parking meters and the money inside of them.

The key was later recovered by a maintenance worker checking the elevator mechanical room.

Downtown parking enforcement resumes June 22

Since the city wasn’t able to rekey the meters, staff worked on alternate plans to replace the meters with newer, modern pay stations and use license plate reader technology for parking enforcement.

City considering license plate recognition, pay stations for downtown parking enforcement

In June, the Parking Advisory Commission voted to recommend that plan. The new technology comes with an upfront cost, but also an estimated cost savings over time, according to city staff.

Raymond said the upfront cost of the new equipment in year one is about $170,500.

Downtown parking enforcement resumes June 22

The multi-space pay stations will be coupled with license plate reader technology and equipment. With LPR, “cameras are mounted to a vehicle and connected to a computer inside the vehicle. The system continually scans vehicle license plates, communicates with the multi-space pay stations and the mobile payment app., and will alert the driver when a vehicle has either not paid, their session has expired, or they have stayed in the same spot for over 2-hours. Once the driver receives the alert, they may stop the vehicle to write and print a citation. The significant advantage of adopting LPR technology is the speed, efficiency, and accuracy of covering the downtown parking enforcement district compared to patrolling on foot,” according to the city staff report.

Parking board votes to resume two-hour enforcement downtown

The city will also have to write and adopt a LPR operations and policy manual, as required by state law, that specifies how the technology is to be used and what limitations will strictly be adhered to when LPR is being used.

“Some communities across the United States have chosen to utilize LPR to assist in the identification and reporting to authorities of stolen vehicles. In some cases, as the enforcement vehicle would roll along, the cameras would read a license plate that would have been reported as a stolen vehicle and law enforcement would be notified. In Great Falls, this practice will not be permitted and a policy manual will be written to discourage any such unauthorized use of the capabilities that exist with LPR technology,” according to the staff report.

The new parking related fees will pass some of the additional costs onto those who use the parking system, versus absorbing those costs into the parking fund, which has dwindling reserves, mostly due to COVID.

Raymond said in October that the parking system’s reserve fund was about $493,000 in March but now it’s about $350,000. He said that typically, the program brings in $25,000 to $35,000 monthly from meter revenue, but the city hasn’t been charging for metered parking since March.

The parking fund is an enterprise fund, meaning the parking program is supported by fees and fines for parking, not tax dollars from the city general fund.