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Portland, Ore., Weighs $16M Parking Meter Retrofit Project

The city wants to overhaul approximately 2,000 parking meters and add hundreds of stations to newer parking districts. The upgrades would tack on an additional $16.1 million to the existing Cale America contract.

by Andrew Theen, The Oregonian / February 10, 2020
A parking pay station outside of Portland City Hall marked with a Parking Kitty zone decal. TNS

(TNS) — Portland wants to pay the company that manages paid street parking an additional $16.1 million over the next five years to retrofit nearly 2,000 meters and potentially add hundreds more stations in new parking districts.

Transportation officials on Wednesday briefed the City Council on the proposal, which would amend and extend the existing Cale America contract, which expires in April. The company based in Clearwater, Florida, in 2015 signed a five-year, $11.9 million agreement with the city that has been revised several times, bringing it to $14.9 million.

Lester Spitler, Portland’s chief procurement officer, said the latest amendment was “significant,’ but the city determined it was the best way to expand the system.

“After discussing options and associated costs, we are in agreement this is the best option,” he told the council.

The City Council will hold a final vote on the proposal Feb. 12.

Under the deal, Portland could buy 600 parking pay stations in the next five years if, or when, the city decides to expand and add paid parking districts.

Cale America would also upgrade 1,900 of the existing 2,200 pay stations to create systemwide uniformity. Once completed, motorists would not be issued a printed parking ticket for their transaction, but instead they would pay to park and use their license plate to identify their vehicle. That already exists at hundreds of locations across Portland.

The other significant change would create an online permit program for neighborhoods or business districts with on-street parking restrictions. According to city staff, about 30,000 applicants use the current permit program, but they must visit an office to submit documents.

Mayor Ted Wheeler asked whether pay stations will even be necessary after the contract, if extended, expires in five years.

“My assumption is we’d want to move to an app-based approach to this,” he said, a nod to the Parking Kitty smartphone app that allows users to pay or extend their parking.

Chris Armes, Portland’s parking operations division manager, said 40% of the city’s on-street parking transactions already happen through that application.

But Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, who oversees the transportation department, said the city needs those meters for people who don’t have phones, are from out of town or can’t pay by credit card.

Wheeler added that he’s unsure of the long-range plans. “At some point my guess is maintaining the infrastructure is not going to be cost effective,” he said.

The city has a checkered history with Cale America, none of which was mentioned Wednesday during the council discussion and briefing.

The city’s former parking manager, Ellis McCoy, was sentenced in 2015 to two years in federal prison for accepting bribes from one of Cale’s independent distributors beginning in the 2000s. At the time, Cale officials said they had no knowledge of the bribe scheme. Records released in 2015 showed that a key Cale official who remained with the company had been told about McCoy’s efforts in 2005 to manipulate the bidding process for Cale “so that no one can touch it but us.”

Because Portland had already worked with Cale for more than a decade, its on-street parking machines would be “rendered useless” if city leaders picked a different company.

Portland signed its current contract with Cale in 2015. If approved, the revised deal would expire April 23, 2025.

©2020 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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