Royal Oak elected officials are now among those frustrated by technical issues with the city’s new parking system introduced six months ago.
Technical problems continue to plague the system installed last year by a private company, Municipal Parking Services.
The company owns the approximately 700 meters equipped with cameras in the city center, sends parking tickets by post and splits the money 50-50 with the city.
But the economic marriage between the company and the city is strained.
Retailers, particularly on Washington Avenue, have expressed their anger for months and started an online petition calling on the city to replace error-prone meters with something else.
Last week, a podcast host from WWJ Radio (950-AM) traveled to Royal Oak to look into the issue, but things went awry when the host tried to park and couldn’t run the counter.
“Point detection wasn’t working on the meter,” City Commissioner Brandon Kolo said, “so the meter didn’t recognize the previous car was gone.”
Mayor Michael Fournier tried to park once and couldn’t get the Sentry meter that reads license plates to work.
Media coverage of faulty meters has reinforced previous complaints from businesses and parking users.
Paul Martin, chief operating officer of the MPS, appeared before city commissioners on Monday. He talked about efforts to fix issues, daily reports to city police, fixing software issues, and meeting with retailer groups.
“We recognize that there have been shortcomings and we take responsibility for them,” Martin said.
Selfridge pilot admits he can’t wait to see ‘Top Gun: Maverick’
Out of 275,000 metered parking sessions since last November, 140,000 users have successfully paid for their time, Martin said. Compliance with parking meters was 50% in April and now 60%, he added.
Fournier has anecdotal data on meters not working and asked Martin what the failure rate of meters was. Martin did not have an immediate response.
“If you have an ATM (bank) and it only works 97% of the time, there will be a lot of people upset,” the mayor said. “We need to improve, ATM-wise… All I know is a lot of people (have) these issues. If no one trusts (in the system), that’s a problem.
Both Mayor and Commissioner Kolo said ongoing meter issues were negatively impacting businesses and the city’s reputation.
“We have a black eye and a bleeding nose now,” Kolo told Martin, adding that he heard of a motorist who parked for 15 minutes and was charged two hours on the Sentry Meter Parking app.
Another who used a space on Sunday, when parking is free, was charged for parking on Monday.
Martin agreed to a request from Kolo that MPS technicians come and individually test each parking meter to make sure it is working properly.
“We’re not going to keep letting them give us a parking system that doesn’t fully work,” Kolo said Wednesday. “The city brought in MPS and really got their feet wet with the issues we’re seeing.”
Lori London, a board member of the city’s Downtown Development Authority and owner of the Write Impressions stationery store on Washington Avenue, is among the retailers who have complained about how the parking system keeps customers away.
Because meter cameras only read license plates, vehicles have to back into Washington’s angled parking spots.
“The biggest overall problem is the (parking) system itself,” London said. “We have to help (customers) every day to understand how to use the meters. Why is it so difficult?”
The glitchy parking system is keeping customers away, according to London and other retailers.
An unknown number of people are avoiding the new parking system altogether and there are “people saying I’m not going downtown,” City Commissioner Patricia Paruch said.