Government

Who's getting parking tickets in Cedar Rapids?

More than 124,000 tickets and warnings in six years

Enforcement Ambassador Laura Purcell monitors the computer system checking parked cars in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, Dec
Enforcement Ambassador Laura Purcell monitors the computer system checking parked cars in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2015. Park Cedar Rapids gave out 124,000 parking tickets over the last five years during a change in philosophy encouraging more leeway with the public including giving more warnings to make promote the public to come downtown. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — No one likes seeing an orange envelope pinned to the windshield of their car. But for some Cedar Rapids drivers, paying a few — or a hundred — parking tickets is worth it to park close to their destinations.

“I have to keep an eye on it every two hours,” Mickie Binger, 21, of Cedar Rapids, said of her four-door sedan parked in a metered spot in the 300 block of Second Street SE downtown.

Binger knows a $50-per-month spot in the nearby parkade would be cheaper than $1 an hour for street parking outside Premiere Business Solutions, where she works as a telemarketer. She plans to buy a permit — just as soon as she pays off $150 in tickets.

In the past six years, Park Cedar Rapids handed out 124,599 parking citations and warnings worth $1.36 million.

Numbers represent total counts of parkings by dollar amount. Chart by Chris Essig / The Gazette

More than three-quarters of the tickets from Nov. 1, 2009, through Oct. 31, 2015, were $7.50, 17 percent were $25, and 4.4 percent were warnings with no penalty, a Gazette analysis shows.

Despite a recent fine hike, Cedar Rapids parking is reasonably priced compared to other cities, and the philosophy of the department is more about encouraging people to come downtown than it is about generating revenue, said Doug Neumann, Economic Alliance executive vice president.

“Our goal is to have 15 percent vacancy on the street,” Neumann said.

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“We want to make it possible for you to come down here and eat lunch or go to the dentist,” he said.

The city leases its downtown parking system to Downtown Parking Management Inc., which has a five-member board that includes Neumann. The not-for-profit hires Park Cedar Rapids, a private company, to operate the system with the expectation parking will generate at least $1.1 million for the city to pay debt and maintain parking facilities.

Park CR collects about 90 percent of its fines, which is up from 80 percent five years ago, said Jon Rouse, Park CR general manager.

‘Personal contact’

Laura Purcell is the face of the city’s kinder, gentler parking system. The parking ambassador with an education degree writes friendly notes in the margins of parking tickets to let drivers know exactly why they were ticketed.

If you come back to the car while she’s writing, she’s likely to tear up the ticket and explain the infraction instead.

Parking tickets, by street

Map shows the streets where the most tickets were recorded. Map by Chris Essig / The Gazette

“Personal contact is just as effective as written,” Purcell said.

On a recent snowy morning, Purcell cruised downtown in a car equipped with license-plate recognition software, which scans for plates and feeds the information into an electronic database.

The database shows if vehicles have expired registration or a large number of unpaid tickets.

Purcell can set alarms so if a car still is parked in a two-hour zone three hours later, she knows it’s time to write a ticket.

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The software alerts Purcell when telemarketer Binger’s plate is spotted on the street, for example. Purcell hops out to leave Binger a warning.

When the young woman spots the Park CR car outside, she runs out to make sure she isn’t being towed for unpaid tickets.

When she sees it’s just warning, she chats briefly with Purcell, promising to pay her fines.

“We have to do what we do,” Purcell said later. “But we also make an effort to extend a high level of customer service.”

Cost of doing business

Some Cedar Rapids drivers would rather pay tickets than change their behavior. Forty-six people had 100 or more parking tickets or warnings in the past six years, according to city parking data.

Numbers show the license plate that received the most tickets in the last six years. Table by Chris Essig / The Gazette

One license plate — 495 ZSO — received 411 citations for a total $2,860. The parking database doesn’t include the license plate holder’s name — that’s illegal under the federal Driver’s Privacy Protection Act — but the black Ford SUV got most of its infractions in downtown Cedar Rapids.

“All but one of those tickets has been paid — believe it or not,” Rouse said about the top ticket getter. “For some, it’s just a convenience factor for them. They’d rather not pay for a regular spot.”

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Chad Simmons, CEO of Diversity Focus, got 135 tickets worth $920 in the last six years in his white Audi with the plate FOCUS D.

“I have a permanent slot elsewhere in a parking garage, but my job requires me to come in and out,” Simmons said last week after parking in a metered spot on Second Street SE in front of his office.

Simmons usually uses the Park CR PayByPhone app, but after time in the two-hour meters expires, he can’t pay for another spot using the app for 30 minutes.

“Those are the times I’m prone to tickets,” he said.

Park CR raised parking fines Jan. 1, in part to nudge people to use garages and parking lots, Rouse said. Expired meters went from $7.50 to $10, and drivers who overstay meters with time limits — even if they keep paying the meter — will pay $15 if caught. Monthly parking rates in the ramps and surface lot also increased.

Most likely times, places for tickets

Vehicles with Iowa plates got 95 percent of the parking tickets or warnings written in the past six years in Cedar Rapids, but drivers from all 50 states were ticketed.

“We wrote three tickets to someone out of Hawaii,” Rouse said. “We probably should have given them an award for getting their car here.”

Rouse instructs parking ambassadors to give warnings the first time they spot an out-of-state or out-of-county plate.

The most likely time to get parking tickets in Cedar Rapids is between 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Wednesdays, with more than 4,000 handed out that hour over the past six years.

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Tuesdays and Thursdays also have high ticket counts, which makes sense considering most people work in the middle of the week and take vacation Monday or Friday, Rouse said.

Parking tickets, by hour

Numbers represent total counts of parking tickets for each hour on each day of the week, since 2010. Data analysis and chart by John McGlothlen / The Gazette

The most likely spot for tickets is Second Street, with one in six parking citations slapped on cars parked there in the past six years.

Cedar Rapids police handed out 8,800 tickets, or about 7 percent of the total parking tickets in the past six years. Those citations, most of which happen outside of downtown, are often related to parking in a prohibited area, parking improperly, overstaying parking limits and storing cars on the street.

Police citations over the past six years were costlier, with 96 percent $25 or more.

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