Parking privatization may spur economic development

Downtown and Broad Ripple restaurants and retailers could enjoy a boost in business from Mayor Greg Ballard’s parking meter privatization initiative. But curbside coat-tailers, meter-feeders and ticket scofflaws may have to pony up more fees, or at least move their cars every few hours.

As IBJ reported earlier this year, Ballard is exploring leasing out management of more than 15,000 city street, surface and garage parking spaces. Indianapolis makes about $5 million annually from parking tolls and tickets. The mayor hopes to keep that revenue stream steady while generating at least $10 million in upfront cash for infrastructure improvement through the lease.

Indianapolis currently operates a hybrid parking management model, in which locally based Denison Parking handles meter enforcement while city employees are responsible for meter maintenance and coin collection.

On Feb. 10, Ballard released a request for qualifications from businesses interested in a privatization contract covering the city’s whole parking operation. Indianapolis received 16 responses by its March 15 deadline.

Thursday, Ballard released responses from the seven business groups selected to move forward in the bidding process. Denison, in a proposal with three affiliated partners, was among the preferred candidates. Firms were selected based on their technology-management capability and parking experience.

The remaining respondents’ proposals vary, but all involve installing modern parking meter technology and operating it for at least 10 years. Ideas on the table include new mulit-space meters that allow more cars to park in the same amount of ground. Proposed enhanced single-space meters could offer wireless capacity for driver convenience, allowing toll payment by credit card or even cell phone.

The new meters also would encourage parking turnover. For example, they may include sensors that register when a vehicle enters and exits a space, allowing a monitoring system to prevent long-term parking by drivers who repeatedly feed the same meter. A sensor-based system also could wipe away any paid-but-unused time before another driver parks in the same space, creating more frequent opportunities for the city to collect tolls.

Kurt Fullbeck, project assistant for Ballard’s Parking Monitorization Initiative, said one of the mayor’s main goals is to spur turnover at the most valuable parking spots in downtown Indianapolis and Broad Ripple, which would boost economic development.

“To have meters that are occupied eight hours a day makes it tough for companies such as restaurants and [retailers] to [attract] the customers they need,” Fullbeck said. “We’re trying to increase the ease of use for people to park downtown and spur the turnover needed for people who want to come down to have dinner, or run into a shop quickly to pick up something, instead of having to drive around for blocks and blocks to find a parking spot.”

“Parking on the street is not supposed to be long-term parking,” he added.

A single IT system for all the city’s spaces also could allow Indianapolis to offer demand-driven pricing for its parking meter tolls. That means drivers might pay less during off-peak hours but more during the busiest parts of the day, month or year.

All seven of the remaining proposals, available at, currently stand on even ground, Fullbeck said. Each business group now will have the opportunity to parse the city’s historic parking data in preparation for initial bid presentations in late May or early June.

After that, the city will narrow the field to two or three possible contractors. Fullbeck said Ballard expects to enter final negotiations in July or August, then bring the deal before the City-County Council for a vote this fall.

“We were really, really excited about the quality of the responses that we got,” Fullbeck said. “We received responses from local and international firms, which to me signals we ran a good and competitive process, to attract this type of interest.”

The city plans a series of public meetings to discuss parking privatization and gather public opinions. The first is scheduled for Monday from 6 to 8 p.m. at the IPS Center for Inquiry, 725 N. New Jersey St.

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