City Moves Forward with Plan to Privatize Parking Meters

By Jill Colvin on June 11, 2012 2:06pm 

The city is considering turning its muni-meters over to a private company.
The city is considering turning its muni-meters over to a private company.
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DNAinfo/Jeff Mays

NEW YORK CITY — The Department of Transportation is looking for companies to help it with plans to privatize parking on city streets.

The DOT issued a request for applications Monday to companies interested in competing for the right to take over the city’s nearly 90,000 parking spaces and 40,000 parking meters, which are expected to rake in a whopping $125 million in revenue this year, not including fines.

While the private company would be responsible for collecting cash and maintaining meters, the request stressed that, under any arrangement, the city would maintain control of all meters rates as well as enforcement.

"The idea is just to solicit any and all ideas," Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan told City Council members during a recent budget hearing.

"We’re just opening the door to see what’s out there."

Among the ideas that have been floated include electronic sensors that might signal when a spot is free and then alert other drivers, as well as new payment options, such as widespread pay-by-phone.

The city is hoping companies can come up with new ideas to make parking less of a headache for drivers, who have been known to circle for hours desperately searching for a hallowed space.

The city is also not ruling out the idea of experimenting with a variable pricing system, in which parking prices might change depending on time or demand for spaces, Sadik-Khan said.

Last year, the city issued nearly 9 million parking summonses, including more than 2.5 million for meter-related parking violations, according to city stats.

While Sadik-Khan has stressed the plan will only go forward if a private operator is deemed able to provide better service than what the city has today, not everyone has embraced the idea.

"[Maybe] something is being fixed that isn’t broken," said City Council Transportation Committee Chairman Jimmy Vacca at the council hearing.

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio has also expressed concern over the move, which comes as the city is increasingly relying on public-private partnerships and private outsourcing to save cash.

Just last week, the city announced plans to auction off the right to sponsor 631 city basketball courts and 55 dog runs in an effort to raise $5 million in new cash — raising eyebrows from critics who fear the growing privatization of public space.

Companies have until Tuesday July 31 to submit applications for consideration. A request for proposals is expected to follow if the city decides there are enough qualified bidders.

A similar venture to privatize street parking meters in Chicago sparked massive controversy and resulted in the city losing millions of dollars in revenue.

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