Revenue-neutral parking proves elusive in Oxford

By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal

OXFORD – When Oxford hired Standard Parking last year to create more turnover of storefront parking downtown, the Chicago-based company promised the service would be close to revenue-neutral.
In nearly seven months since, the city has seen about $1,100 in collections, with the fiscal year’s expenses still projected at more than $200,000.
Mayor Pat Patterson, members of the Parking Commission and Standard Parking representatives met Thursday to discuss the shortfall.
Ed Urrutia, SP regional manager, said the system is reshaping drivers’ behavior, as city officials had hoped.
“Once a citizen gets that courtesy violation, they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing,” he said.
That echoed Mayor Pat Patterson’s statement at Tuesday’s board meeting: “There’s no arguing that from a parking standpoint it’s been successful. From a revenue standpoint, it’s anything but successful.”
Urrutia said ticket-writing is not discretionary for the system, which uses optical equipment and computers instead of human observation.
Patterson, however, said he tested the system twice this week by asking employees to park in storefront spaces.
One got a ticket after nearly five hours, the other not at all, he said.
“Over the last several months I’ve seen the (enforcement) vehicle scores of times, but I don’t remember ever seeing it stopped and (the employee) writing tickets,” said Parking Commission member Tom Sharpe.
City Planner Tim Akers said, “Budget time’s coming up, and we need to have a new strategy in place with some pretty dramatic improvements before our board would be comfortable with this again.”
Both Sharpe and Patterson voiced a hope that aldermen might revisit the metered-parking proposal that they rejected last year, especially in light of another 100 free, off-street spaces opening this summer.
Urrutia defended his high-compliance argument but said managers would come to Oxford to run the system themselves for a week to check the system. He and Bill Foster, another SP regional manager, said they would have further recommendations on July 12.
Patterson said the city could not go back to its former lax enforcement under which downtown employees often took up precious storefront parking, but neither could it justify such expense.
“It’s a delicate balance between enforcing parking and driving business away,” he said. “I know enforcement would cost something; it’s a legitimate city cost – but not $250,000.”
errol.castens@journalinc.com