Predatory. Punitive. Profit-driven.
That is how Atlanta residents described Park Atlanta at a town hall meeting with City Council members Wednesday night.
The city is contemplating parting ways with Park Atlanta, the private company that manages paid street parking.
Atlanta City Council Member Felicia Moore explained how the contract came to be:
“The contract came under the Franklin administration. Funding was short. We had laid off most of the parking meter enforcement officers."
The city’s contract with Park Atlanta expires next year. Many residents at this first town hall meeting on options for a future model seemed eager to scrap the private contractor model and return management to the city.
City Council Member Mary Norwood said out of 250 comments she’s received through her own survey, 12 were positive.
“Of course we always know we hear from the people who are ‘concerned,’” Norwood said. Unfair ticketing, customer service issues, problems with the meters and unclear signage made were among the most common complaints she’s received.
Susan Mitchell-Ketzes of Virginia Highlands was one of several people concerned about customer service and oversight.
“There seems to me, to be kind of a gleeful or punitive zest for the task that goes way past doing a good job,” Mitchell-Ketzes said.
Johnny Martinez, who owns Joystick Gamebar on Edgewood Avenue, listed grievances from employees and customers as well as his own.
“I myself yesterday received another ticket for being within 15 feet of a fire hydrant," Martinez said. "I was over 40 feet away from that fire hydrant."
He said he has personally contested three tickets in as many years and has watched the penalty fees tick up while waiting for responses from Park Atlanta that never came.
“I think if we had good customer service related to it, I’d be a little less upset about it," Martinez said. "But I’ve seen enough customers get angry and say ‘I’m just not going to come back. I’m so annoyed,’ that it makes me wonder what the thought process is behind this and more importantly, why there is no oversight."
John Goodwin, who lives near Piedmont Park, said he appreciated Park Atlanta’s services, “because before that, it was very difficult to park during heavy park traffic hours. On the weekends, just forget about parking a block from your house.”
Some were concerned about what they see as a baked-in profit motive for writing citations.
Department of Public Works Commissioner Richard Mendoza said, “The current contract is framed for a minimum annual payment to the city." Revenue beyond that $5.5 million payment goes back into operations and maintenance, he explained.
City Council Member Michael Julian Bond echoed a Dragon Con volunteer’s concerns about parking costs around large events.
“I don’t want to go as far as saying they price gouge, but I’ve seen their prices increase dramatically. From $15 to $40 in a day,” Bond said.
State Senator Vincent Fort said, “All of the things that have been said tonight are saying that [Park Atlanta has] been preying on the citizens of Atlanta and visitors to the city." He said he is drafting legislation to ban third-party parking enforcement through a constitutional amendment.
There will be two more public hearings on the future of the Park Atlanta contract, including one Dec. 10 at Inman Middle School.