Royal Oak approves new parking meters, fines to double

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published June 22, 2021

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ROYAL OAK — The Royal Oak City Commission voted 4-3 to approve a five-year contract with Minneapolis-based Municipal Parking Services to outfit the city with new smart parking meters and kiosks for a cost of $30,000.

The fine attached to parking tickets will double, from $10 to $20; parking rates will remain unchanged.

Royal Oak Police Chief Corrigan O’Donohue said the MPS system does not work with a $10 parking ticket, since it collects half the fees to cover maintenance and upkeep costs of the meters. He said the national average on parking tickets is $30, and Royal Oak hasn’t increased parking ticket fees in more than 10 years.

O’Donohue said the new system would drastically increase compliance. The city’s current compliance for parking meters is approximately 40%. Officials speculate the new system would increase it to roughly 75%.

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 provide for public service announcements and advertising.

Users can also use an app to funnel funds into an account for a touch-free experience, pay for additional time at the end of their session to avoid a citation, or locate open parking spots.

O’Donohue said the Police Department took on sole responsibility for the city’s parking several years ago to rectify a “poor job” that resulted in the public perception of Royal Oak’s parking as scarce and expensive, with heavy-handed enforcement.

He said the main problems the city is experiencing with parking are people not paying for parking and taking up on-street spots all day when they should be parking in structures for longer stays.

In January, police brought the issue before the City Commission after an “overwhelmingly positive” public town hall, but they were directed to revise the contract to draft terms that were more favorable to the city.

Interim City Attorney Anne McLaughlin said one of the issues she and bond counsel addressed was the issue of how much control the city had, and staff changed “a lot of the language … to make it clear that the city retains control over the system.”

Over the course of five years, O’Donohue said, the city’s portion of revenue is estimated to be $7,095,000 in fees and $15,912,000 in fines, which would ultimately be closer to $12,361,000 due to processing costs. Fees would go into the parking system, while fines would go into the general fund, he said.

“It’s for ease of use for the end user and overall fairness for everyone,” he said. “We want to make sure parking is convenient, accessible and functional, and we think we can do that with MPS.”

Commissioners Melanie Macey, Brandon Kolo and Monica Hunt voted against the contract.

Macey said she felt the new system would create a “significant increase in the cost of visiting Royal Oak.” She also said she does not like the addition of hundreds of LED screens with ads and cameras all over the city.

“I just feel like overall the residents aren’t going to feel like this is an improvement to the parking system,” Macey said. “It does provide some public safety benefits, but also there’s a loss of privacy that we can’t deny.”

Kolo and Hunt voiced concerns with the language of the contract limiting the city’s control over the system. They particularly took issue with charging the city $25 per parking meter per day for bagging the meter — taking it out of service — beyond an allotted 30 meters for existing events, or for any new special events.

“I feel like it remains a little one-sided toward MPS. Rightfully so, as they’re making the capital investment,” Kolo said. “They are taking the upfront costs of installing millions of dollars of parking (infrastructure) inside the entire city and monitoring and maintaining the system and software.”

Commissioner Kyle DuBuc called the system “next generation.”

“This is where we should be going,” he said. “I see tremendous benefit for our businesses and our residents and our visitors.”

Mayor Pro Tem Paula Paruch said that with the new Henry Ford Health System medical building and downtown park coming online in the near future, the city is going to experience an influx of parking system users.

“We’re going to need new technology and a new system to be able to handle that,” Paruch said. “This is a situation that cries out for a private vendor who does this for a living.”

Commissioner Sharlan Douglas said she supported the system and stressed the need for a substantial public information campaign, which she said she felt confident in city staff’s ability to do.

City Manager Paul Brake advised that the motion needed to include a caveat that City Attorney Aaron Leal would review the contract and “tidy up” any details.

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

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