Royal Oak extends surface lot parking limit to 4 hours

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published October 13, 2021

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ROYAL OAK — On Sept. 27, the Royal Oak City Commission voted unanimously to grant Police Chief Corrigan O’Donohue’s request to extend surface lot parking meter time limits from three to four hours, with the exception of the Sherman Drive surface lot.

The City Commission, after discussion, took no action on O’Donohue’s request to extend on-street parking meter time limits from two to three hours, so on-street parking meter time limits will remain unchanged.

The Royal Oak 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.

O’Donohue said the main problems the city currently experiences with parking are employees and visitors not paying for parking and taking up on-street spots all day when they should be parking in structures for longer stays.

The Royal Oak parking system will soon undergo a transition to new smart meters and kiosks. In June, the City Commission voted 4-3 to approve a five-year contract with Minneapolis-based Municipal Parking Services.

O’Donohue said the new system will roll out in phases, with the surface lots and first phase of on-street meters debuting over the next several weeks.

While the fine attached to parking tickets will double, from $10 to $20, parking rates will remain unchanged. Municipal Parking Services will collect half of the fees to cover maintenance and upkeep costs, while fines will go into the general fund.

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

O’Donohue, using input from city staff and local business owners, proposed the recommendations to extend on-street and surface lot parking time limits temporarily as a way to help parking customers avoid violations. Once the new MPS system goes live, any vehicle parked over the maximum time limit will be issued a violation.

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.

Using the mobile phone app, users can 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.

“We believe this one-hour extension is called for, at least temporarily, just to provide the best customer service,” O’Donohue said. “The central business district is evolving. The Etkin building came online in 2018, and now with the Henry Ford Medical Center opening up, and Centennial Commons park, we really don’t know how our downtown is going to evolve.”

He said the MPS system is flexible — the city can change information or rules “very, very easily” and, once the new system comes online, the city will have an “abundance of data on who parks where and when.” The current system, he said, only allows the city to monitor how much money people are feeding the meters.

City Manager Paul Brake said he anticipates requesting the city to hire a parking consultant to conduct a future study utilizing the new data from the MPS system to continue improving parking in the city.

“I would give it more like six to nine months (before we have enough data). … We have to allow individuals the learning curve to understand the system, the nuances, and then once people adapt to it, then we can craft it to achieve our goals,” Brake said. “We do need to revisit this. This is not a permanent solution by any means.”

Commissioner Kyle DuBuc said he felt the two-hour on-street parking time limit should not be extended to prevent “incentivizing staying there longer” and that he would like to see the data once the system goes live.

“Maybe there’s a spike in violations, but, ideally, that would taper off as people realize, ‘OK, I need to be in a surface lot or a deck,’” DuBuc said. “I feel like the best part of the system is it gets the turnover the system is designed for, and I don’t want to shortchange that at the outset.”

Mayor Pro Tem Sharlan Douglas said she would rather stick with the two-hour on-street parking time limit than temporarily extend it to three hours and then “blindside people” with the return to two hours.

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

Macey said she felt like the new system would create a “significant increase in the cost of visiting Royal Oak.” She added that she does not like the addition of hundreds of LED screens with ads and cameras all over the city, which do “provide some public safety benefit, 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.

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.

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

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