BRIDGEPORT, CT — Time has expired for the camera-equipped automated downtown parking meters.
Following months of pressure from business owners and City Council members, Mayor Joe Ganim’s administration is scrapping the high-tech equipment that helped issue fines by mail.
“Time frame? Six to eight weeks,” said Kelvin Ayala, owner of Moe’s Burger Joint and one of the most vocal critics of the meters.
Ayala said he and some other downtown business leaders got the news from Ganim aides during a private meeting Tuesday morning.
A city source confirmed that the existing meters will be removed and replaced with ones that have some of the same benefits, like being credit-card friendly, but without the controversial Big Brother element.
Asked how he felt about the change, Ayala said, “The politically correct answer is I’m happy they finally answered to the constituents and took action.”
“The reality,” Ayala continued, “is we should have got this resolved in May, June of last year. But when we had meetings (with the administration) back in March, April, they wanted (the controversy) to go away and sweep it under the rug.”
Ayala said he was told the city has decided to continue with parking management company LAZ of Hartford, though that contract will be modified. Some council members had wanted to severe that relationship.
Downtown merchants have long demanded an updated parking system to replace the aged, coin-operated meters.
Ganim made that project a priority following his election in late 2015. But the so-called smart equipment City Hall chose — manufactured and installed by Municipal Parking Services (MPS) of Minnesota — came under attack for being hard to use and overly aggressive, with too-high fines of $40 mailed to violators.
The Ganim administration was also accused of not doing a good enough job of letting the public know about the new technology and of putting the wrong person — Ganim aide and ex-FBI agent Ed Adams — in charge.
Adams was accused of having no experience overseeing a parking system, especially one as complex as this one.
“I’m not anti-technology,” Frank Borres, chairman of the board of the Bridgeport Chamber of Commerce, said in an interview last month. “I just think the way it was rolled out and utilized, it seemed mean-spirited.”
But as of last June, Ganim was standing behind the meters.
“There’s more work to be done. It’s still going to need a little tweaking,” the mayor said at the time. “(But) it’s going to settle in. We went for the latest technology. Ultimately that will serve us well.”
City Council members got tired of waiting for the promised tweaks and, last summer, threatened to place a moratorium on the meters. They backed off after the municipal attorney warned that a moratorium would breach MPS’s contract and land the city in court.
The council did cut the meter fines to $20, extend the grace period drivers had to feed the meters and offered free Saturday parking.
The city also faced embarrassments when it came to collecting on the hundreds of tickets the smart meters issued.
Last April, retired Superior Court Judge Carmen Lopez and attorneys Edward Krasnow and son Marc Krasnow successfully fought their tickets and, in doing so, raised questions about the parking enforcement and appeals process.
And eventually the backlog of appeals became too much for Michael Moretti, the volunteer hearing officer. He resigned, and was just replaced in December. No parking ticket hearings were held for several months.
Councilman Jack Banta represents downtown. He said the cameras never should have been installed in the first place. Now that they are being removed, Banta said, the city needs to do a better job publicizing the meters.
“There were no signs up,” Banta said Tuesday. “Nobody really knew about the fines — the $40 tickets. Nobody knew about that until they got home and there’s a ticket waiting in the mail. They (the city) advertised, but it could have been done better.”