Cedar Rapids officials hope new cameras solve downtown parking issues

Cameras designed to improve collection of unpaid tickets, increase parking turnover

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Park Cedar Rapids, the city of Cedar Rapids' parking department, will soon be scanning the license plates of cars parked on downtown streets. Leaders announced a new technology on Monday that they believe will encourage parking space turnover and help them collect unpaid parking tickets.

Jon Rouse, general manager of Park Cedar Rapids, said there are currently no plans to use the license plate recognition cameras to identify expired spaces. "We are really focusing on better collections, versus writing more tickets. We will be out there trying to actively collect those outstanding revenues," he said.

Rouse added that the definition of "outstanding revenues" typically involves five or more more unpaid parking citations.

Rouse said he is also hopeful the technology will help generate more parking turnover downtown, so businesses consistently have available parking for customers. "They are paying for the meter, and then in some cases they are paying for the meter again. There is actually a parking policy in place that requires them to move from that block space," he said.

Currently, Park Cedar Rapids workers chalk the tires of the vehicles that have overstayed their welcome. Rouse said the new cameras will allow workers to automate the process by quickly recognizing vehicles that have exceeded the parking limit.

"It will be able to actively patrol downtown in about an hour and a half, instead of what it's currently taking, which is two and a half employees about eight hours," Rouse said.

Rouse added that the new technology will not eliminate any jobs -- it will just allow Park Cedar Rapids to better allocate their resources, allowing more staff members to provide customer service.

Parking revenue paid for the cameras, which cost just over $30,000. "In this year alone, we expect it to save us in excess of $50,000, so the return on the investment is essentially less than a year," said Rouse.

Park Cedar Rapids will not keep license plate numbers on file for more than a day, but Rouse said the technology will be able to perform occupancy and utilization studies.

Toby O'Claire of Cedar Rapids, parks downtown often. He said there is a problem with people staying in the same spot all day, but believes there are better ways to spend parking revenue.

"They should put that money towards getting better machines that are going to work 100 percent of the time," he said.

O'Claire is also concerned with where his license plate information will go. While leaders said it will be deleted at the end of the day, O'Claire said he still isn't comfortable with it. "Even though they say that, it still could be put in some system somewhere," he added.

The technology is used in other cities around the country, but Rouse said he is not aware of any other city in Iowa having it in place. Park Cedar Rapids will start testing the new cameras on Tuesday.

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