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Royal Oak police solicit input for new parking system

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

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ROYAL OAK — The Royal Oak Police Department is well on its way to overhauling the city’s parking system.

City officials recently held a virtual webinar that attracted more than 100 people to discuss the results of a parking survey that received approximately 1,300 responses representing all users of the downtown parking system.

Royal Oak Police Chief Corrigan O’Donohue said the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive regarding a new automated system to improve parking operations.

The current downtown parking system is a patchwork of aging kiosks and meters, and officials wanted to come up with a long-lasting solution that will address major concerns with street and surface lot parking.

While the Police Department has always been responsible for parking enforcement, it has in the last year and a half also picked up the administrative end. The department hired Parking Systems Manager Keith Frye to look at solutions, although O’Donohue said the pandemic severely hampered progress on the project.

According to Frye, most of the city’s meters are first generation smart meters based on 2G technology, and the carrier quit supporting 2G technology Jan. 1, eliminating the meters’ ability to perform credit card transactions and other functions.

The city is looking into an advanced system by Minneapolis-based Municipal Parking Services, which consists of pay stations and parking sticks.

The system features high-resolution video technology 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. Users can funnel funds into an account or pay for additional time at the end of their session to avoid a citation. The app also shows open spots during busy hours.

O’Donohue said Royal Oak has 2,564 parking structure parking spaces, 816 surface lot spots and 959 metered street parking spots, with much more office space set to come online with recent downtown developments and the new Henry Ford medical building opening this summer.

“We will have a lot more daytime visitors than we are used to,” he said. “We need to be prepared for these changes, and we need to be prepared to reopen smarter once this pandemic is behind us.”

Already the city eliminated its $5 flat fee for parking in structures after 5 p.m., and parking throughout the city remains free on Sundays.

The most common concerns from the survey included that parking ticketing is too aggressive, meters are too tall or poorly lit, surface parking is lacking, and kiosks are confusing and inconvenient.

“We can have available parking or free parking, but we can’t have both,” O’Donohue said. “Charging for parking ensures people don’t monopolize parking spots all day. We see this on Sundays with employees in the downtown.”

Under the MPS system, parking tickets would increase from $10 to $20.

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 over 10 years.

“We want to make sure people are aware of what we’re doing. I think it’s a good and fair system, but we need all Royal Oakers and everyone who visits us to really understand what it is, how fair it is and how to use it, so it works and we get our system working as efficiently as we can,” he said.

Royal Oak City Manager Paul Brake said he was hopeful to have the Royal Oak City Commission take action on the new parking system in February.

“I was pleasantly surprised by the number of people that took the time and who were willing to share their opinions. We had some great feedback,” Brake said. “Having an automatic system allows for a greater compliance with people actually paying, and it helps to bring in revenue.”

He added that he believes that the goal of a consistent and reliable parking system is achievable, but that it will require a learning curve, and sometimes change is hard. He said the city planned to run promotions and an awareness campaign if the City Commission approved the new automatic system.

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

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