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Empire Editorial: 'Cadillac of parking meters' really just a lemon

Posted: October 24, 2013 - 12:10am

The Juneau Assembly wisely decided against spending $50,000 annually to create a new parking manager position to oversee the numerous shortfalls with the city’s metered parking system downtown. The vote was a close one, however, and a single vote could have resulted in the city pitching even more money into what appears to be a bottomless pit.

When the city was shopping for a new way to manage downtown parking, one city official described the system they purchased from Aparc for $400,000 as the “Cadillac of parking meters.” Nearly three years later, it’s apparent the city instead got a lemon.

We’re glad four members of the Assembly had fiscal restraint to avoid creating what was being billed as a temporary position. Assembly member Randy Wanamaker was correct in his assessment that too often the city “has a habit of creating temporary positions and then keeping them a long time — often, it becomes permanent.”

Hiring someone to oversee the metered system is a Band-aid for the real issue. The delay between the sharing of information between the kiosks, database and handheld devices has made the software ineffective, and those tasked with enforcing downtown parking have no idea when a car has stayed past its allotted time. Other proposals to fix the system also fall short, because no one seems willing to address the main problem that started it all: Juneau didn’t get what it paid for.

Instead of adopting a “pay-and-display” system requiring drivers to put a receipt from the kiosk on their dashboard, or hiring a part-time parking coordinator for $35,000 annually (both ideas proposed last week), city officials need to go to the vendor who sold them the system, Aparc, and demand they do something about it.

For perspective, if the city were to take the $50,000 annually to oversee the parking meters, in addition to the $30,000 spent each year to maintain the system, Juneau would have enough saved in several years to buy a real “Cadillac,” one that works the way it’s intended.

City Attorney Amy Mead said in July her department could look into pursuing legal options, even though in her opinion Aparc hadn’t breached the contract it signed with the city. We’re confused as to why Aparc isn’t in breach of the contract, because it appears what the city expected to get isn’t what was delivered. This raises another question: If in fact Juneau got what it was promised, was something overlooked on our end that lead to such an incompatible system?

Instead of making Juneau motorists spend winter hiking up and down hills in the snow to put a kiosk receipt on their dashboard, or adding to the city’s payroll to have someone babysit a system that already costs $30,000 per year to maintain, the Juneau Assembly needs to flex its political muscle and put pressure on Aparc to do what it promised all along: give Juneau the Cadillac of parking meters it was promised.

What the city shouldn’t do is take its lemon and make sour lemonade that we’ll be forced to drink for years to come.

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