Atlanta Police Officer Joseph Varela, working an off-duty job for ParkAtlanta, writes a parking ticket in Midtown on Friday June 15th, 2012. Atlanta officials hope they have finally come up with a solution to the city's problems with the much-maligned ParkAtlanta contract -- raising fines for people who don't pay promptly. That proposal is strongly opposed by two representatives on City Council whose districts contain most of the ParkAtlanta meters. And it's unclear whether residents will be placated by the Reed administration's decision not to push for 24-hour enforcement. The changed fines, which could affect hundreds of thousands of visitors and residents this summer, is headed for a big vote in City Council on Monday. PHIL SKINNER / PSKINNER@AJC.COM
A plan to place more stringent operational demands on ParkAtlanta was approved Wednesday by the City Council’s transportation committee, laying groundwork for the private enforcement company to face additional oversight from the city of Atlanta.
Drivers have barraged officials for years with complaints about the company’s enforcement practices.
If the changes to ParkAtlanta’s seven-year contract are approved by the full City Council next week, the company would be prohibited from issuing tickets where parking signs are missing or blocked by foliage or other obstacles, and where meters are not functioning.
The city would also have an explicit right to request the removal of any ParkAtlanta employee who does not meet professional standards of behavior when dealing with the public. If a ticket is issued erroneously, ParkAtlanta would also have to cancel it and pay an additional $35 fine to the city.
It was important, city officials said, to add a financial consequence for writing faulty tickets.
“There are a number of things we put in place to ensure we actually have some level of control over customer service,” said Hans Utz, the city’s deputy chief operating officer. “Every single amendment we put in place is about holding this vendor accountable and strengthening our hand in our conversations with this particular vendor.”
Under the proposed amendment, ParkAtlanta would have to provide an online process for filing complaints on its website and would be required to share all complaints and responses with the city. The company would have to keep a specific phone number dedicated to questions and complaints.
ParkAtlanta, a unit of Milwaukee-based Duncan Solutions, would also be required to respond to all online complaints within two days. The legislation additionally calls for new employee training.
As a result of the contractual changes, Atlanta would in turn receive $200,000 less from ParkAtlanta every year. The company would pay the city $5.3 million annually, a 3.6 percent reduction from the current $5.5 million.
When ParkAtlanta set up shop in late 2009, drivers, residents and business owners in Midtown, Little Five Points, Virginia-Highland and other heavy-traffic areas quickly and loudly complained about the tougher enforcement. One city councilman called for the contract to be voided.
On Wednesday, city councilwoman Carla Smith of southeast Atlanta said she hoped the legislation would push ParkAtlanta employees to be more courteous with drivers. But she said that’s a difficult goal.
“If we could legislate behavior, then all of us could pretty much go home,” she said. “Tell folks to follow the Golden Rule and then go home.”
Yolanda Adrean, who represents part of north Atlanta on the council, said some meters are antiquated and should be replaced. “These old-timey coin meters have got to go,” she said.
Utz said plans are underway to improve the meters by adding a feature that would allow drivers to pay with cell phones. But technological upgrades are not the immediate focus, he said.
“This is all about enforcement and transparency and accountability,” he said.
After a rough week in Washington, President Barack Obama came to rainy Atlanta on Sunday to be with a friendlier crowd, becoming the first sitting president to give the commencement address at Morehouse College.