Since 2004, on-street parking enforcement in Louisville has been contracted to Lanier Parking. The Georgia-based company patrols the streets and writes tickets in exchange for a share of the fines. This summer, the Parking Authority of River City, or PARC, will re-evaluate its contract with Lanier as it prepares to take bids for a new agreement that will start October 1st.
On a Wednesday afternoon along 4th Street, motorists park and feed coins into the parking meters. Jeff Kopple doesn’t feed the meters…but says he has an excuse.
“When you’re doing deliveries, you’re allowed 30 minutes with your hazards on,” he says.
Kopple, who delivers pizzas, still gets occasional parking tickets. He says some of those are his fault, others not, but he’d rather just pay the fines than contest those citations.
“I’ve got quite a few outstanding tickets and I own the shop,” he says. But I also run deliveries. I wouldn’t say [I pay the tickets] promptly. I’m sure I’ve got a few outstanding ones.”
When Kopple pays the typical $15 parking fine, about 37 cents goes to the company that issued the ticket, Lanier Parking. Since 2004, Lanier has been contracted to issue parking citations at the city’s 5,000 metered spots. Before that, the police wrote the tickets, and they still can. But parking authority Executive Administrator Cathy Duncan says the previous system wasn’t always efficient.
“With LMPD, the parking citations were less critical,” says Duncan. “So their officers might be pulled to do traffic—understandably so, because they have a much more important role.”
To free up police officers and step up enforcement, PARC contracted with Lanier. Duncan says the company doesn’t have much power or responsibility, beyond writing tickets and putting immobilizing boots on cars.
“The parking ordinance sets the fines,” she says. “Lanier does nothing as far as setting the fines, setting the rates for the meters. None of that. That is all controlled by PARC, Metro Council and the parking authority board.”
Lanier gets 2.5% of citation fines, and no money from the coins put into meters. But that’s not the company’s only source of income. The parking contract is reimbursable, which means that operating expenses for Lanier’s 25 Louisville employees, their office, utilities and uniforms are all paid for by the city. Last year, 2 million dollars came in from citations, and just over 500 thousand dollars went back to Lanier for management fees and expenses. Duncan says it’s worth it.
“It’s saved obviously a great deal of the payroll, the retirement, having those employees on staff versus having a contracted employee. Plus they have the expertise. You hire a parking professional to run your program, they have the expertise,” says Duncan. “They are on-street operators, off-street operators.”
“It may very well be done more efficiently. Government is often inefficient, unfortunately,” says University of Louisville political science professor Dr. Dewey Clayton. “That is one of the issues. Often times private entities can do it more efficiently.”
Clayton says privitization is a good way for governments to save money on employee benefits, and it will likely increase in tough economic times, as government revenue shrinks. But Clayton says contracting can also create problems, as it has on the national level with overseas defense contractors.
“When government is involved, you’re talking about individuals maintaining a certain level of ethics,” he says. “Sure, you can trust business to do that, but with businesses’ motive being profit, sometimes—as we have seen—unfortunately, they can scurry around that.”
Citing company policy, Lanier officials declined to comment about their operations in Louisville or other cities. Their reimbursement budget and contract are available through freedom of information requests to PARC, but not all private contractors are bound by the same laws of transparency as government.
Lanier’s contract expires at the end of September. Clayton says as PARC reviews bids for a new contract, transparency and a simple process for motorists to appeal citations should be top priorities.
PARC officials say Lanier has generally received good marks for its performance since 2004.
Back on 4th Street, delivery man Jeff Kopple and other parkers do have complaints, but not about tickets or Lanier.
“I definitely think they could use some more street parking, especially down here in the 4th Street area,” says Kopple.. “It is a lot of trouble when we’re doing deliveries all over downtown. But it certainly would help to have more parking.”