Chattanooga’s transit boss said his agency could do a better job of parking enforcement than the city, be friendlier to tourists and still collect enough extra money from fines to build parking garages.
Tom Dugan, executive director of the Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority, made a pitch to the City Council’s legal and legislative committee on Tuesday to take over parking enforcement downtown.
CARTA needs money to help build parking garages and wants to get away from asking the city for it, he said.
“The parking side of CARTA has to generate revenue,” Dugan said.
Under his proposal, CARTA would enforce parking within the downtown area, a job now performed by police service technicians, or PSTs. He said the authority would set up a storefront downtown where people can pay fines and appeal parking violations, and develop an ambassador program in which parking enforcement personnel could answer questions for tourists, such as good places to eat downtown and attractions to visit.
Dugan insisted that the police service technicians will not lose their jobs if CARTA takes over enforcement.
Richard Beeland, spokesman for Mayor Ron Littlefield, said Wednesday the administration supports CARTA’s idea and also said no one would lose a job. He said some PSTs may be shifted over to other police divisions.
But City Judge Russell Bean doesn’t like the proposal. He said he does not think parking enforcement should be a “money-making, for-profit entity” and an agency responsible for collecting fines should not also be responsible for ruling on fines.
“It concerns me that an agency is handling it judicially,” he said.
Bean said that would be like the police department having its own judicial system to handle traffic violations.
Sometimes violators need to be given “justice with mercy,” he said, and questioned whether an entity that wants to make money would treat violators fairly.
“You have to maintain the system and it has to be separate,” he said.
The legal and legislative committee gave the go-ahead Tuesday for the city to start examining codes that would need to be changed to allow CARTA to oversee parking enforcement. The council will discuss the matter again later.
Dugan said he foresees having 10 to 12 employees working in the parking division — five or six ticket writers and the rest in the storefront.
The Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority is proposing the following changes for parking enforcement in the city. CARTA will:
Take over parking meter enforcement, fine collection and bagging of meters when parking isn’t allowed.
Set up a storefront to collect fines, issue parking passes and hear initial appeals of fines.
Create a website with information about parking and fines.
Develop a downtown ambassador program for tourists.
In the first year, he said, CARTA will give the city the same amount of parking fine revenue it received last year — around $460,000. CARTA would keep anything above that, he said.
If the program is successful, he said, he hopes to lobby the city to give CARTA more of the money.
He said the salaries and storefront lease would bring some additional financial burden, but the agency could shift money from other areas such as the Incline Railway and hold off on some capital projects for a few years.
“We could handle a two- or three-year startup cost,” he said.
River City Co., the nonprofit entity that oversees economic development downtown, has been working with CARTA on the project for a year, said Jim Williamson, vice president of planning and development for the company.
River City did a study in 2006 that showed parking responsibility should come under the umbrella of one entity, Williamson said.
“Parking has always been on our agenda,” he said. “He didn’t have to sell it to us.”
Contact Cliff Hightower at chightower@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6480. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/CliffHightower.