Minneapolis is getting high-tech devices expected to help increase enforcement - and revenue.
Driving down S. 13th Street in Minneapolis, traffic worker U. Sang Thao spotted a gold Prius blocking a garage near Harmon Place. He used a measuring stick to check just how far in front of the garage the Prius was parked. Then he wrote a $32 ticket.
Such penalties soon may be more difficult to contest. By month's end, the city expects to give traffic workers high-tech devices capable of photographing certain violations and of speeding up the ticket-writing process.
It is just one of several ways that Minneapolis in recent years has made its parking enforcement more efficient.
In one of the most visible, the city is nearly finished installing 550 solar-powered parking stations that accept credit cards for 5,500 parking spaces -- most recently around the Metrodome -- and it plans to replace the last of the old quarter-fed parking meters by fall.
The newer stations contributed to a 12 percent increase in parking revenues last year, when Minneapolis took in $7.5 million from meters and pay stations. The city collected $4.5 million in the first six months of this year.
Some of the revenue bump was because of more people driving during the mild winter, more night and weekend enforcement downtown, and increased enforcement hours in other areas, according to spokesman Matt Laible.
Moreover, motorists are no longer limited to paying only the number of quarters they can scrounge up. By using credit cards, they're shorting the city less.
Fine collections up
Meanwhile, the city has stepped up its efforts to collect fines for violations.
Minneapolis took in $5.9 million from parking citations last year, up 9 percent from 2011 and 25.5 percent over the five-year average. Officials attribute that to motorists paying more tickets and the courts dismissing fewer.
The city began requesting last year that the Hennepin County District Court's Violations Bureau regularly send the city detailed data on whether parking tickets were paid in part, in full or were dismissed, and why. The data indicated that certain procedures had caused some tickets to be dismissed, so "we worked to tighten things up," said Chuck Elliott, director of traffic control.
The city amended an ordinance to clarify that owners of the ticketed vehicles are ultimately responsible for paying them. The city also ensured that certified documents were available on time and more fully instructed newer staff attorneys on parking ordinances and statutes.
Using the violations data, "If we see a lot of a certain type of violation were being dismissed, then we can go and ask more questions of our city attorney or the Violations Bureau about specifically what's wrong with the cases that we're providing. ... We can drill down and try to [understand] some of those gaps and errors," said Clara Schmit-Gonzalez, manager for parking and traffic control.
Additionally, Hennepin County District Court several years ago switched from a private vendor to the Minnesota Department of Revenue to collect fines, which officials said resulted in more revenue because the state was more aggressive and carried more authority.
Officials said the number of tickets written is falling because the credit-card stations make it easier to pay. But enforcing parking rules can take a lot of time.
When Minneapolis used traditional meters, Thao could quickly drive down the street and know that a car was overparked if a space on the meter had turned red. Now, he has to stop and check a secured city website on his smartphone, type in the street, and wait for a list of parking spaces to pop up. Those not paid are coded red, and he must walk to the vehicle and use a separate device to write a citation. He has to refresh the screen constantly to ensure that drivers are not, say, paying for a space at a station around the block.
"I don't really like the system," said Thao, who has written tickets for the city for five years. "It takes too much time just to enforce one block. To me, it's not very productive."
The new equipment the city plans to start issuing next week to its 35 parking enforcers offers Internet access, so workers don't have to juggle two devices. Minneapolis officials said the change is expected to make ticket-writing much faster and should free up staff in the Traffic Control Unit for other tasks.
Elliott said Minneapolis might write more tickets as a result. But the main goal, he said, is to ensure that vehicles move in and out of business areas quickly so that more customers can park, and that motorists follow the city's rules.
Maya Rao • 612-673-4210