New Royal Oak smart parking system coming online

Violators will be mailed $20 fine

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published October 27, 2021

 From left, Tina Franceschina, franchise owner of Freshii; Stacey Rackham, owner of Mint Hair Crafting; and Royal Oak Police Chief Corrigan O’Donohue talk about the new parking system in Royal Oak Oct. 14.

From left, Tina Franceschina, franchise owner of Freshii; Stacey Rackham, owner of Mint Hair Crafting; and Royal Oak Police Chief Corrigan O’Donohue talk about the new parking system in Royal Oak Oct. 14.

Photo by Sarah Wojcik

 The LED screens on the new parking kiosks are backlit and the city can program them with public service announcements or advertising.

The LED screens on the new parking kiosks are backlit and the city can program them with public service announcements or advertising.

Photo by Sarah Wojcik

 A new parking bollard shows a yellow LED light, which signals that the parking user is within the five-minute grace period of an on-street parking space.

A new parking bollard shows a yellow LED light, which signals that the parking user is within the five-minute grace period of an on-street parking space.

Photo by Sarah Wojcik

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ROYAL OAK — Officials hope a new smart parking system in Royal Oak will bring the compliance rate from around 40% to upward of 90%.

The new smart kiosks and bollards are currently being installed in downtown Royal Oak as part of a five-year contract with Minneapolis-based Municipal Parking Services. They will replace the more than 950 street meters and more than 800 surface lot spots this fall.

The Royal Oak Police Department took on sole responsibility for the city’s overall parking system several years ago to rectify the city’s hodgepodge of different parking meter systems and reputation for scarce, expensive and heavily enforced parking.

“Our goal is to make sure our parking is accessible, easy to use and fair,” Police Chief Corrigan O’Donohue said. “(The new parking system) utilizes technology to make sure it’s easy to pay for parking (and) avoid a ticket, but it also helps to make sure parking is available and easy to find.”

He said the city’s old system of parking meters was difficult to read and too physically tall for some users. With the new system, users can pay for parking the traditional way with quarters or a credit card, or through the Sentry Mobile App.

Users can preload their account with funds, and cameras in the new parking system will read their license plates and deduct the exact amount for the duration of their stay for a touch-free experience. They can also pay for additional time at the end of their session to avoid a citation or locate open parking spots.

“As long as you don’t exceed the two-hour time limit we have on our street meters, you will not get a ticket,” O’Donohue said.

While the City Commission opted to keep the street time limit at two hours, it recently approved extending the time limit on surface lots, with the exception of the Sherman Drive surface lot, from three to four hours.

The new system will allow a five-minute grace period at the beginning and end of on-street parking sessions and a 15-minute grace period at the beginning and end of surface lot parking sessions.

Fines attached to parking violations will double, from $10 to $20, while parking rates will remain unchanged. The Police Department will review and authorize violations the next day, and tickets will be sent to offenders by mail.

The system features license plate recognition cameras and sensors powered by low voltage electricity, unlike traditional parking meters that require constant maintenance of batteries. The screens are backlit and the city can program them with public service announcements or advertising.

O’Donohue said no current parking enforcement officers will lose their jobs; while their jobs will change slightly, there will continue to be a need for parking enforcement. He said the department has not been filling parking enforcement vacancies in anticipation of there being a decreased need with the new parking system.

Rob Matthews, vice president of sales and business development for Municipal Parking Services, said a pilot program showed that 40%-50% of people actually paid for parking in a test area along Main Street, between Third and Fourth streets.

“Over time, we think the compliance rate will rise from 40% upward of 90%,” Matthews said. “We have over 35 different patents relating to parking, payment and enforcement, and our technology is installed in over 100 cities in the United States.”

As the system rolls out, Matthews added that MPS will staff parking ambassadors through Royal Oak-based Express Employment Professionals. The ambassadors will help drivers navigate the new parking system and encourage them to install the Sentry Mobile App.

“We just want to make sure we make a good first impression,” Matthews said.

During a press event to publicize the new parking system Oct. 14, downtown Royal Oak entrepreneurs Stacey Rackham, owner of Mint Hair Crafting, and Tina Franceschina, franchise owner of Freshii, expressed support for the initiative.

“Downtown Royal Oak has a diverse selection of businesses and all the businesses have different needs for parking for the best experience,” Rackham said. “For me, what I’m looking forward to is that our business will be able to have access and a convenient experience for all of our guests.”

Franceschina said that while the installation of the new parking system may cause temporary inconveniences for sidewalk users and sidewalk cafes, she expects it to be a better parking system once complete.

For more information, visit romi.gov/parking or call Royal Oak City Hall at (248) 246-3000.

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