BANGOR, Maine — Parking enforcement in downtown Bangor will change significantly if the city council backs a revived proposal to have one person in a vehicle replace the work of three people on foot.
The system would use a “mobile license plate recognition system,” a pair of cameras mounted to a vehicle, to read and record license plates of vehicles parked on each side of the street. A computer program would use this information to handle citations and track data and payments.
This privatization of parking enforcement would result in one full-time worker replacing the three part-time workers who currently walk the streets — a fourth parking enforcement position is vacant. The company proposing the change says those part-time employees would have the first opportunity to interview for the full-time post. Each part-timer works 30 hours per week without benefits, according to the city.
“It’s not something that we take lightly,” said Jason Bird, business development officer and downtown coordinator for the city, but costs of the old system are increasing, costs of the proposed system decreasing, and city staff say it could be time to make the switch.
Republic Parking — a Tennessee-based firm that operates the city’s parking garage, the Abbott Square lot across from Bangor Public Library, about a dozen permit lots and lots at Bangor International Airport — made the proposal, which will be discussed by the city’s Business and Economic Development Committee on Tuesday.
Bird said the “antiquated” parking system has presented problems for downtown businesses.
It’s easy to cheat the current system by periodically wiping chalk off the tires or moving a car a few spaces down the street, he said. These methods of dodging time restrictions are sometimes used by downtown employees and prevent customers from being able to park, according to Bird.
The data collected by this system would help prevent some of these violations and increase revenue for the city by catching violations more accurately. Republic Parking states that plate recognition systems are 25 times more effective at enforcement than the manual chalking system.
The city first considered the switch two years ago, but it fell flat because of lower-than-expected savings over five years. However, in the past two years, the cost of the license plate recognition system has dropped drastically, from about $86,000 to $33,000, increasing its appeal, according to Republic Parking manager Parke Clemens.
Bangor officials have said they are facing one of the most trying budget seasons they’ve seen, and councilors have urged staff to look for reductions wherever they can.
Republic projects the program will cost $127,000 in its first year. With a small reduction in costs associated with the new program and a significant projected increase in revenue through citations, the city could find itself $100,000 in the black after implementing the change, according to Bird.
Bird said the City Council could consider ordinances to restrict “spot shuffling” and other parking loopholes on city streets at some point after the new system is implemented. Data collected by the plate-detecting vehicle could help lead those discussions.
Today, the Bangor Police Department is in charge of parking enforcement, overseeing three part-time employees who walk city streets, marking tires with chalk and returning an hour or two later to record time-restriction violations and write tickets.
“The police department’s technology is really limited now and they don’t have the funds to upgrade it,” Clemens said Monday, adding that this proposal could take a burden off the shoulders of police.
He also said the city would see significant savings as result of the change.
Republic has similar parking services in Hartford, Conn., Louisville and Lexington, Ky., and Cedar Rapids, Iowa.