Bangor considers hiring company to run public parking on city streets

Posted Nov. 10, 2010, at 10:07 p.m.
The City of Bangor is considering privatizing the management and enforcement of on-street parking in the downtown areas.  Republic Parking, a private company, already manages the Pickering Square parking garage, other downtown lots and at Bangor International Airport. This downtown scene was taken of Park Street on Nov. 10, 2010. Bangor Daily News/Scott Haskell)
The City of Bangor is considering privatizing the management and enforcement of on-street parking in the downtown areas. Republic Parking, a private company, already manages the Pickering Square parking garage, other downtown lots and at Bangor International Airport. This downtown scene was taken of Park Street on Nov. 10, 2010. Bangor Daily News/Scott Haskell)

BANGOR, Maine — Fourteen years ago, the city first contracted with a private firm to manage municipal parking garages and lots. Republic Parking now manages all of Bangor’s public parking areas, including all spaces at Bangor International Airport.

Could that company do the same for the city’s on-street parking downtown?

Not only could Republic Parking do it, company vice president Jack Skelton said Wednesday, but also it could do it cheaper and with more effectiveness than the way it’s being done now.

Skelton and local Republic Parking manager Parke Clemons presented city councilors with a proposal to take over operations of on-street parking enforcement, duties that now are performed by a division of the Bangor Police Department.

According to Skelton, Republic would employ better technology to create operational efficiencies and reduce costs to the city. Also, since Bangor already contracts with the Tennessee-based firm, the administrative costs would increase only negligibly.

“It wouldn’t simply be a transfer of responsibility, but a whole new system,” Clemons said.

Republic Parking already manages on-street parking in other communities, including Springfield, Mass., and Cedar Rapids, Iowa, which both are more populated than Bangor.

Downtown parking problems long have plagued the city and are likely to only get worse as the downtown continues to attract more visitors. Councilors and city staff have made numerous changes in recent years, but problems persist.

Skelton made a strong case for privatization and answered every question Wednesday, but for four employees seated inside City Council chambers, all they heard was that their jobs could be in jeopardy. Police Chief Ron Gastia, who oversees the four part-time parking attendants, said the employees are flesh and blood and he worried about their future if changes are made.

Skelton said his company has dealt with personnel issues in other cities and would make every effort to transfer staff if possible. However, if the change were made, Republic Parking would require only one full-time employee.

Councilors did not take any action on Wednesday but agreed to study the idea further.

Geoff Gratwick, who has served as the council’s liaison to the downtown parking advisory committee, said although the city makes minor changes regularly, “the large picture has evaded us.”

A total of 50 motorists had more than 10 outstanding parking tickets each as of June 16, Gastia said, ranging to a high of 28 tickets. The number of motorists who had between six and nine outstanding tickets is in the hundreds. Assuming $10 to $15 per ticket, Bangor is missing out on $20,000 to $30,000 in revenue which would help subsidize the Police Department’s parking division.

Lack of off-street parking is not a problem. Republic Parking oversees nearly 1,200 spaces in 13 lots but people usually bypass that option. Instead, they play the numbers game. Consider that if a parking ticket costs $15 and a monthly parking permit costs $50, someone could get 39 parking tickets annually and still pay less than renting space.

Gastia has lamented the city’s antiquated system for tagging parking scofflaws. Instead of a handheld computer, parking enforcers carry a cumbersome list of repeat offenders that they can refer to. Republic Parking would employ handheld devices to streamline the process and also would implement what’s known as an auto-chalk system that essentially takes pictures of cars.

The city would bear the cost of those equipment upgrades.

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