By Elizabeth Ireland-Curtis
Parking in downtown Flint is contentious and confusing. City council regularly hears complaints about the meters, how to use them and the many unwarranted tickets residents receive.
East Village Magazine (EVM) reached out multiple times to the City of Flint Communications Department, Municipal Parking System (MPS) and Flint Downtown Development Authority (DDA). None have responded with information to the questions we asked.
The questions raised by EVM and yet to be answered include:
- Number of tickets issued in a month by DDA generated by Auto Park
- Amount of revenue generated by the meters and fines separately
- Number of tickets that are disputed
- Number of disputed tickets that are dismissed
- How much does the Management Service Agreement with MPS cost
- What happens to consumers of unpaid and undisputed tickets
- With the construction on Saginaw, will the current meters be reinstalled
Why have paid parking?
Paid parking provides control over coveted spaces for downtown businesses, limits the time a car may be parked to two hours and is meant to generate revenue for the city. However, the current system is not transparent and may not be the best solution.
The DDA collected $2.7 million in gross revenue in FY2022; parking revenue comprising the largest source of that income at $1.2 million, according to DDA’s 2023 Strategic Plan conducted by Progressive Urban Management Associates (PUMA) Around half of the DDA parking revenue can be attributed to monthly parking passes, with the remainder generated from on-street meters.”The full Strategic Plan is available on the DDA website, flintdda.org.
How did we get here?
The Flint DDA was established in 2011 under the Public Act of 1975. It is that Authority that is charged, according to their bylaws, with the power “to implement a parking enforcement bureau for parking enforcement in the downtown district”. They do so by issuing citations based on the information MPS provides. Tickets are issued and fees are collected by Flint DDA, but it is not clear how much of that money goes to the City.
Prior to the current system, Flint’s Downtown Development Authority (DDA) stated the city had 35 solar powered pay stations for the 276 spaces on Saginaw from City Hall to the river. This system, in place for nine years, was plagued by equipment failures and increasing maintenance costs. No data is available as to the monthly revenue that it generated.
Municipal Parking System (MPS) financed a 3-month trial in 2018 for their cloud-based system, called AutoPark. That study stated the parking revenues had increased in one month to $57,000. Violations went from an estimated yearly figure of 2,800 to 6,500, in just 30 days. It also claimed their trial system resulted in a return of $165,000 in one month, with violation revenue and compliance increasing 20% over the length of the study.
Subsequently, the city entered into a 5-year agreement with MPS to handle metered parking. According to a DDA press release issued in 2019, Flint was the first Michigan city to adopt this system.
When MPS’s AutoPark system was installed, the gross revenue from metered parking was $14,000 per month according to that study they presented to the city. MPS projected their system would increase the financial return to the City of Flint four-fold. However, information concerning current revenues cannot be confirmed.
The city did not have to make any capital investment to obtain the AutoPark system; it is leased. The monthly or yearly cost of the MPS agreement for the hardware, software, repairs, maintenance, or future updates is not known. According to the 2019 press release from DDA, revenues were to be shared by the vendor and Flint DDA.
How it works?
The MPS system uses remotely monitored image capturing technology to record parking violations. The cost of the equipment (327 Safety Meters, 90 Payment Kiosks and 237 Safety Sticks), installation, fee collection software, administration, and management are all covered by a multiyear managed services agreement which expires in 2024 according to the survey conducted by PUMA earlier this year.
The number of meters increased under MPS to include Harrison and Beecher Streets in addition to those on Saginaw. The Flint DDA website, flintdda.org, outlines information on the meaning of the colored lights seen on the Safety sticks, where parking is prohibited, and the location of handicap and free spaces.
What we do know.
As it stands, MPS operating costs must be met before any funds are available to the Flint DDA, let alone the city. For example, bonds were used to construct the Rutherford Parking structure built in 2009 at a cost of $8 million. As of 2021, the bond, at 5% interest, was $5,735,00 and will mature in 2034. Surplus monies collected from meters and fines were to be earmarked to repay this bond.
The Rutherford parking structure is one of seven parking facilities owned by the city; half of those are owned by the DDA, whose net capital assets are quoted in the Flint DDA Strategic plan as $12.7 million. Information from 2020 listed operating losses for the parking structure at $600,219. Profits or losses from other parking facilities is not known. Metered parking is separate, although under the DDA umbrella.
In a May 23rd email, Brad Segal, President of PUMA stated, “One of our primary recommendations was for the DDA to hire a parking management consultant to start working on developing a new agreement and/or system in 2024.”
EVM has learned that the current system will be reinstalled as the bricks and sidewalk restoration proceeds.
In a related matter, Councilperson Dennis Pfeiffer (Ward 8) posted on social media a letter he wrote to Mayor Sheldon Neeley as Chairman of the Flint DDA. He is requesting an investigation into the “expenses incurred with the office of Executive Director.” The director, Kiaira May, resigned as of May 12th according to a city press release from May 5, 2023. The complete letter can be seen on his Facebook page, Dennis Pfeiffer For Flint.
EVM reporter Elizabeth Ireland-Curtis can be reached at email@example.com.