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New York City Goes P and D

By John Van Horn

In Civil Service, most don't get the satisfaction of a job well done. We do!
The six people who lead the 700 who mind the parking in the City of New York were in full agreement about that quote. Their leader, Victor Rosen, carried it a step further. "Parking is sexy," he said. "It has an unusual impact. We balance the equities between what the public needs and governmental considerations."
Rosen and his crew know a lot about governmental and community considerations. The week they sat for an interview with PT, the mayor and City Council had been in a major hassle over whether to reinstate free Sunday parking. The City Council and free parking won.
Rosen believes that as soon as the merchants find the neighborhoods are clogged with cars due to free parking, they may have second thoughts. "The world has changed from a time when the only things open on Sunday were the churches. Now it's just another business day," he said.
"We are the stewards of parking for one of the most renowned cities on Earth," Rosen said. "In one way or another, we interact with hundreds of thousands of people every day. How we do that can either help or hinder the way the city functions."
The city's new program of charging commercial vehicles to park is a good example. According to Toni Turcic, Director of Research & Development for the Bureau of Parking, cross-town traffic was a mess, due in large part to commercial vehicles not having places to park. Those spaces were taken all day by people who, by hook or crook, had gotten commercial plates but didn't deserve them. Seventeen percent of the vehicles parking free were business owners. "You should see the number of Mercedes with the back seats taken out and commercial plates. They do it so they can park all day on the street for free."
When the program using pay-and-display equipment to charge for commercial parking went into effect, the result was instantaneous. Trucks moved more quickly. There was turnover, and no longer were spaces taken by those who shouldn't be using them.
"The legitimate delivery services, like UPS and FedEx, loved the new program," Turcic said. "Before, their trucks were being ticketed and towed. UPS spent over a million dollars a year in parking fines. Now they have a card the drivers use to pay the parking. No more tickets and plenty of room to park."
In the end, said Turcic, the Bureau of Parking not only solved a major parking headache, but greatly freed up cross-town traffic.
When a driver purchases two hours of parking, it is good anywhere the vehicle parks for that two hours. So a delivery truck can purchase a ticket in the morning and use it for the amount of time purchased, a maximum of 3 hours, as long as it parks in an area covered by the "muni-meters," as they are called in New York.
A major headache with parking meters is ensuring that they are working. Director of Field Operations Michael Pipitone has someone visit each of the city's 62,000 meters at least once a week. "We use hand-helds to track each meter and its activity," he said. "If there is vandalism going on in an area, we will visit it more often." Pipitone's crews carry all they need to fix a meter on-site. "Most of the time it's a swap-out or clearing a jam. We can do anything except repair a post that's been bent or pulled out of the ground.
"The P and D machines are reliable and don't give us as much vandalism: 91% of the meters are up at all times; however, we see a more than 99% factor with the P and D machines," Pipitone said.
When the maintenance crew notes an area that is having ongoing vandalism, experience tells this team that it's most likely one person who simply doesn't want to pay for parking. Although legally you can park only one hour at a broken meter, some vandals think that "breaking" a meter gives them a leg up.
"When Mike's group reports an upswing of vandalism in an area, we get involved," said Special Operations Director Vincent Susi. Although a bit circumspect in just how his officers operate, Susi noted that they work with police and stake out areas of vandalism, apprehend suspects and aggressively enforce the law.
"When we see meter vandalism spike on a certain block, I can almost guarantee someone new has moved into the neighborhood and is trying to park for free."
Converting a city such as New York from single-space meters to pay-and-display is a long task. The city first converted its surface lots, or parking "fields" as they are known in New York. Then it began with on-street parking, one neighborhood at a time.
Selecting the right pay-and-display was a tough task for the city. "We actually worked with manufacturers to come up with a NYC design," said Rosen. "We didn't want a bunch of bells and whistles. It had to have a basic standard for durability. Let's face it: This thing had to be a tank." The selection of the vendor was through the normal competitive bidding process.
When the "muni-meters" go into a neighborhood, the Bureau sends officers in advance to prep the neighborhood and let the merchants and residents know what is happening. When the system goes live, they issue no summons for a week.
Asked about the controversy as to whether "unmarked" spaces that you can have with pay-and-display really worked, members of the leadership group were of one mind: 10% to 15% additional spaces, no doubt. "It takes about three or four months," Traffic Engineer John Girardi said. "Then people realize they can squeeze in an extra car on the block, and they do. It's great."
The muni-meters are installed so that they are 75 feet from the furthest parking space. People have to walk, at the most, 150 feet round trip. The city has developed a way to install meters on light posts, using the power going to the lights to drive them. "That cuts down on the number of posts on the street," noted Turcic.
In addition to cash, the meters take parking cards sold by the Bureau. More than 25,000 cards a month are purchased, in $25 and $50 denominations. The Bureau generates about $119 million a year in parking revenue. The city, through the Department of Finance, collects more than five times that much in citation revenue and penalties.
The payroll, personnel, and administrative function of the organization is run by Jessica Levin, admin. director. Like the rest of the management staff, she has worked in various parts of the bureau during her 30 years of service. "Jessica is the bureau's quartermaster," notes, Rosen. "She ensures all logistical needs are met. "
"How far will people walk to a muni-meter? Heh, this is a city of walkers," Rosen said. "If they are willing to walk to the city's attractions, it's not too much to expect them to walk 75 feet to pay their parking fee."
"In truth, the vast majority of our citizens like the new technology. But they aren't from New York if they aren't complaining about something. It's part of the job."

Article Abstract from November, 2005




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