Audit flags problems at parking pay stations

Albuquerque’s midblock parking pay stations are in such bad shape that more than half weren’t even accepting payment at one point this year, auditors at City Hall say.

And the city doesn’t have adequate controls in place to ensure that no one steals the money when pay stations do accept cash, auditors said.

Collecting the money is a problem, too, auditors said. City pay stations had about $38,500 in uncollected revenue in late April because the city wasn’t collecting it often enough, according to documents reviewed by auditors.

The findings are outlined in a 30-page report issued by the city’s Office of Internal Audit.

Even the city administration acknowledges “the pay stations are old and riddled with mechanical issues,” auditors said.

Melissa Lozoya, Albuquerque’s director of municipal development, said Monday that her department is already taking steps to address the audit findings. City staffers are monitoring the parking revenue closely to spot discrepancies in how much money the pay stations and meters report they’ve accepted and how much is actually turned in, she said, and the city will phase out roughly half the midblock pay stations this summer.

The city has two primary ways of collecting on-street parking revenue.

It has about 760 parking meters that accept payment for one space each.

But the other kind – the midblock “multispace” pay stations, generally installed about 10 years ago – have been particularly troublesome, according to auditors.

The city has about 70 midblock pay stations throughout Downtown and Nob Hill. Instead of putting money in individual parking meters, drivers go to one pay station on the block, which prints receipts for them to take back to their car. Each station serves eight to 10 spaces, and they take cash or credit cards.

But the pay stations are so unreliable, auditors said, that the city isn’t even sure which ones were working.

And replacement parts are expensive, so the city isn’t buying them – choosing instead to replace the whole pay station with newer parking meters when money is available.

That’s a potential problem, too: The newer meters don’t always provide accurate reports either, the auditor said.

In an interview, Lozoya disagreed on that point. She said she’s confident the new meters will provide accurate information.

The city plans to install about 500 new single-space parking meters this summer, allowing crews to remove more than half of the unreliable midblock pay stations, Lozoya said. The meters cost about $475,000 altogether, city officials said.

Despite the problems, auditors said the city’s revenue from parking meters and pay stations climbed about 5 percent in the most recent fiscal year, to about $956,000. The report doesn’t address revenue from parking citations.

The city, in any case, is losing out on some revenue, auditors said, because of meters that don’t accept payment.

Revenue from parking citations may be lost, too. Lozoya said parking officers aren’t supposed to issue citations when people park next to a pay station that won’t accept payment.

Parking costs $1 an hour from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. all week, except Sunday.

The report said:

• The city hasn’t collected revenue from the pay stations regularly, and in some cases, the stations have reached capacity and stopped accepting more dollar bills or coins.

In late April, for example, a report estimated that about $38,500 in uncollected revenue sat in pay stations. The city had delayed collecting the money because the stations were having communication problems and trouble producing accurate information. City employees collected the money in early May, though auditors expressed concern about employees having to “openly handle” that much cash on the street.

• At the time of the audit, 53 percent of the pay stations weren’t accepting any form of payment. Lozoya said the number of stations working varies hour to hour.

“It’s really hard to say at any given time how many are down,” she said. “For the most part, our officers are out there trying to make sure they’re all up and running.”

• The city has no assurance “that the collection information for the pay stations is accurate, and intentional reporting errors or theft of revenue could be perpetrated and remain undetected.”

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