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Downtown parking system in need of update

Meanwhile, violators are not being cited

Posted: July 17, 2013 - 12:04am
David McGivney uses a city parking meter on South Franklin Street on Tuesday. The city is working to improve its parking citation program.  Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
David McGivney uses a city parking meter on South Franklin Street on Tuesday. The city is working to improve its parking citation program.

More woes abound in the Capital City as officials work to update a parking system that has slowly failed over the past two years.

Along with the current practice of registering your vehicle after parking, drivers will soon need to place the receipt on the dashboard of their car.

The forthcoming change is concurrent with issues faced by parking enforcement officers when accessing the parking network through their handheld devices.

City Manager Kim Kiefer gave an update on the matter to the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly at a meeting Monday, saying that over the past two and a half years the system has slowly failed to meet expectations and needs.

“Aparc and AT&T have made improvements to the system in order to improve pay stations and handheld communications, and although the CBJ has purchased new handhelds for the purpose of improving communication reliability, we continue to experience unacceptable communication delays and failures,” Kiefer said.

The CBJ entered into a contract with Aparc in 2011 and has since been displeased by the service it and its equipment have provided.

The system cost about $400,000 and costs $30,000 to maintain yearly.

“It’s a big amount, that’s why we’re trying to save the system,” said Mayor Merrill Sanford. “Is there any way to put more pressure on the vendor?”

Amy Mead, City Attorney, said they could look into pursuing legal options, but that Aparc hasn’t legally breached the contract.

“Even though these communication breakdowns are fewer and farther between than they were in the summer of 2011, the enforcement officers do not feel comfortable attesting to the accuracy of citations that they write,” Kiefer said.

There are three options to updating the system: Pay-by-space, which would require additional resources and may have some of the same communication issues; Pay-by-license plate, the current system; Or pay-and-display.

The new system is a combination of the last two.

Drivers used to simply enter their license plate number into the system and be on their way. Instead of tucking away the receipt, drivers will need to go back to their vehicle and place it atop the dashboard.

Assembly Member Karen Crane worried that it would deter drivers from using the parking garages such as the downtown library garage where the elevators are currently out of service. In that case, the driver would need to walk four flights to get their tickets.

Crane also worried that it would allow for drivers to move their cars every two hours, receiving free parking.

“Because once that stopped, that’s what started to open parking downtown,” Crane said. “If we go back, that’s a massive move to closing parking again.”

The Community Development Department assured that adoption of the pay-by-display, as an addition to the pay-by-license system, would ensure the free parking isn’t taken advantage of.

“People will still need to know their license plate number because that’s how they’re tracking it,” said Ben Lyman, CCD senior Planner. “We don’t want employees registering four times a day for eight hours. That’s the last thing we want.”

Current system issues fall on both user and hardware error.

When the city bought the systems they were told they were getting the “Cadillac of parking meters,” according to Lyman.

But current hardware is so outdated that it’s only capable of sending the equivalent of a text message, nothing in comparison to what tasks phones can handle nowadays.

“We just found out that they were 2G and not supported by AT&T. Siemens is working on a modem that will work with these machines,” Lyman said.

Second-generation cellular telecom networks have been around since the early 1990s and are now superseded by faster networks such as 4G and 5G. The standard telecom network for data-enabled cellular phones is 3G, although 2G is still used in some parts of the world.

Other faults are that of end-users who, plainly, aren’t reading directions.

“What we have experienced is widespread inability to read the directions on the pay stations,” Lyman said. “We’re actually going to be changing how the pay stations are set up.”

Fourteen percent of those who use the parking meters are experiencing difficulties when operating the machines. What is required is a back-end software update to eradicate confusion.

A time frame for the update has not been set.

“With this change we’ll be able to begin enforcement again as soon as we make system changes on the back end,” Kiefer said. “Our plan is to advertise those changes and reeducate people and then have probably a week or 10 days of warning and then begin (ticketing).”

Meanwhile, community service officers who normally patrol and enforce parking, haven’t been citing for violations.

“I remain convinced that if the technology works as intended,” Lyman said, “we’d have a system other communities would look at and take note of.”

• Contact reporter Kenneth Rosen at 523-2250 or at kenneth.rosen@juneauempire.com.

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