Scranton to try trial period with meter program

The city of Scranton will participate in a free trial of technology designed to help boost revenue from parking meters.
StreetSmart Technology LLC says its information system provides real-time data monitoring that will allow the city to increase its "capture rate," meaning the number of tickets it writes compared with the actual number of expired meters.

The administration's decision to approve the trial reverses its previous stance that bids should be sought for the technology.

"It's wise to do a test that is free as opposed to signing a contract," Mayor Chris Doherty said. "There will be no financial obligation to the city."

The administration plans to meet today with John Miskell, StreetSmart Technology account manager.

Boosting 'capture'

Scranton now has a 1 percent capture rate for tickets. At that rate, StreetSmart projects Scranton could realize $1.3 million - comparable to the $1.4 million that is included in the 2011 budget.

StreetSmart's technology is designed to alert enforcement agents when meters are broken, full or expired in real time, so they may respond more efficiently. StreetSmart has said that if the city takes full advantage of the technology it could conceivably increase its capture rate to 9 percent, hauling in $4.8 million in revenue.

City council has backed the program, while the mayor and administration have expressed concern about whether the Scranton Parking Authority can afford enough staff to hit targets suggested by StreetSmart, let alone other implementation costs for a permanent application.

Costs

Those costs start with the meters themselves. Scranton has about 1,200 Duncan Eagle Type 90 meters. StreetSmart's system requires more advanced Duncan Eagle 2,100 electronic parking meters.

If Scranton replaces and installs all of its meters through StreetSmart, the city's monthly cost would be about $42,000 over the life of a 60-month contract, covering equipment and monitoring.

The company also offers a guarantee: Its service is free if it fails to provide more revenue than what is already collected.

Whether the city will have enough for a full, paid implementation remains to be seen.

The city is responsible for maintaining the parking meters - funding maintenance and staff in its budget, which already contains $562,234 for citation issuers - although the work is actually done on the city's behalf by the SPA. The authority, meanwhile, this year included $43,443 in its own budget, which can be used for a meter program.

Business Administrator Ryan McGowan said questions about StreetSmart remain, including how the city would fund such a system. But he said he also hopes it works.

For now, though, the city is preparing for the free trial.

The administration determined it would be best to conduct a test program out of concern that waiting to solicit bids could lead to complications and delay the program's implementation - meaning less time to realize revenue increases this year, Mr. McGowan said.

City officials said details of the test program - including number and location of meters - will be determined during the meeting today.

A second approach

Mr. Miskell first approached administration officials in 2009. The administration, however, did not act on StreetSmart's proposal at that time.

He later learned that a former West Scranton High School classmate, John Loscombe, had been appointed to a council seat in 2010 and approached Mr. Loscombe.

Council proved receptive.

"We'll show them the opportunity is there to significantly streamline their operation and significantly streamline their revenues without being tough on the public," said Mr. Miskell.

Council President Janet Evans said the council is "pleased" the mayor intends to conduct a trial period with StreetSmart's technology.

"However, I hope the delay in reaching this decision will not push a March starting date too far off the timeline," Mrs. Evans said, adding the success of the program lies with enforcement.
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