On Sept. 16, 2010, Juneau officials signed a contract that they thought was the answer to the capital city’s downtown parking problem.
New parking meters would allow users to pay for time by registering their license plate numbers. The system would provide up to two hours of free parking while preventing drivers from exploiting the system by simply moving to a new spot.
But just over three years and nearly half a million dollars later, the parking problem remains and city officials are contemplating how to proceed after the parking system from Aparc Systems failed to work as advertised.
“The single most important thing is we get a downtown parking system that works,” Assemblyman Jesse Kiehl said. “The next most important thing is that the tax payers get what they paid for, or get compensated by the contractors.”
The Assembly has scheduled an executive session during its Monday night meeting to discuss “parking management.”
City officials said last week that the executive session would go over the findings of an outside council that had been tasked with figuring out if the city has grounds to file a lawsuit over the system’s failure, or if there is a better course of action.
“We have a lawyer looking into how we handled everything with Aparc,” Mayor Merrill Sanford told the Empire.
He added that the report would be presented to the Assembly in an executive session, and it would include possible legal action against Aparc. The executive session will be closed to the public.
“The bottom line is we still need a parking system six months out of the year,” Sanford said.
Per the contract, the city made the first payment of $200,000 on the eve of Aparc ordering the equipment from the manufacturer, Siemens.
The payments were broken up into five installments — $200,000 in each of the first two years, and then $39,783 around July 1 each of the next three years.
The contract included a clause that said, “City may withhold Year 2 payment if system is not operational by the time the payment is due.”
It is unclear, however, the extent of the problems with the machines when that payment was processed around July 1, 2011.
“It worked sporadically, or at least in part for a while, but they had difficulty keeping it going,” Assemblyman Randy Wanamaker said.
Since then, the city has made two payments of $39,783 each year for monthly communication fees and annual support and maintenance for the software, said Lindsey Brown, the program manager for downtown parking.
“If we don’t pay it, Aparc can say we don’t have support for you because you haven’t paid your annual costs,” Brown said.
The final annual payment of $39,783 is due next summer.
The ongoing cost of the project has irritated the Assembly, which voted last month to reject a temporary parking manager position request, Kiehl said.
“A number voiced concern that we shouldn’t pay another nickel in annual upkeep for a system that’s not working,” Kiehl said of an earlier conversation about the parking situation.
If the problems are not resolved, a lawsuit is something Assembly members are considering, he added.
“Some of us thought we should go after the contractor to either get it working, or get made whole,” Kiehl said.
The system is designed to register the license plate number when a visitor pays for parking, and then instantly send that information to a central database and a number of handheld devices used by parking enforcement personnel.
However, the communication between the kiosks, database and handheld devices can be delayed by almost an hour, so it is impossible to tell if a car is over its time limit or not, said City Manager Kim Kiefer.
“We couldn’t ticket them,” Assembly member Mary Becker said. “The machine wasn’t fast enough to tell us if we could ticket them or not.”
The company has worked with the city on addressing the problems as they have been discovered over the years, but a solution is not visible yet, Kiefer added.
To date, the cause of that problem — which is not the only problem — is unknown.
“We’re not really sure if it’s the pay stations, AT&T’s network or a combination of both,” Brown said. “That’s one of the issues — we just don’t know.
“That’s what were trying to troubleshoot right now.”