Bridgeport’s hi-tech parking meters to phase out over 6 months

BRIDGEPORT — The camera-equipped downtown parking meters are on their way out, but it will take some time to replace them.

“When they’re all gone, I can’t tell you,” John Ricci, the city’s public facilities director — and now Bridgeport’s meter man as well — recently told City Council members.

“We can’t yank them all out on the same day,” said Nestor Nkwo, Bridgeport’s budget chief.

“We don’t want to be meter-less downtown,” Ricci said.

As previously reported, a year after installing the high-tech meters, Mayor Joe Ganim’s administration has cried “uncle” in response to complaints the equipment was too aggressive and hard to operate, poorly publicized, and hurting the local economy.

The meters will be replaced with a different model that offers the same conveniences — like accepting credit cards — without the cameras that caught violations and helped to issue tickets-by-mail.

Ricci and Nkwo on Thursday offered members of the council’s contracts committee additional details about the overhaul.

Ricci said the existing meters, built and installed by Municipal Parking Services out of Minnesota, will be replaced with less “threatening” ones supplied by IPS Group of California and already in use in other municipalities.

“These meters are tried and tested in Norwalk and New Haven,” Ricci said.

Ricci said IPS will be paid $500,000 for 630 meters and public facilities will do the installation in phases over six months. MPS installed its meters for free for a share of the profits.

MPS did not return a request for comment for this story. But last summer, while the council deliberated placing a moratorium on the camera-equipped meters, MPS CEO Brian Cassady threatened to “seek any and all remedies” if the city breached or terminated the contract.

Bridgeport City Attorney R. Christopher Meyer on Friday said the city and MPS mutually agreed to “go our own ways” with no penalties. Meyer said MPS’ contract ends March 31 but, depending on how the meter replacement goes, could be extended on a month-to-month basis. He said the company has been helpful and cooperative.

Ricci told the committee that another private firm involved with the city’s meters — Hartford-based parking manager LAZ— will continue to be involved with the IPS equipment, but “on a profit sharing basis.” So rather than paying LAZ a $385,000 fee, Ricci said LAZ will “share on a fifty-fifty basis everything over the first $800,000” worth of parking meter fees and fines.

And if that revenue increases to $1.2 million, LAZ’s take is reduced to 25 percent.

But Nkwo noted “it’s a milestone to hit the $800,000 threshold” given the council last summer tried to address the meter criticism by halving the violations from $40 to $20; extending the grace period drivers have to feed the meters; and offering free parking on Saturdays. Nkwo at one point last year complained those revisions resulted in a $400,000 annual loss to the city.

Nkwo and Ricci said they may, eventually, asked the council to revisit some of those changes. Ricci said some downtown merchants want the meters to operate on Saturdays to free up spaces.

Councilman Jack Banta, who represents downtown, agreed, saying the city winds up offering free weekend parking for people who are heading into New York City, not spending their days or evenings in Bridgeport: “It’s free Metro North parking. Jump on the train Saturdays and off they go.”

Mary Brennan Coursey, a LAZ spokesman, in a statement Friday said the company was “in the final stages of negotiations to revise and extend our parking services agreement with Bridgeport.”

Ricci also sought to distance himself from the initial meter rollout — “the implementation was wrong” — though he did not specifically blame anyone who was involved within the Ganim administration.

Ganim aide Edward Adams, a retired FBI agent the mayor put in charge of good government, was the city staffer most associated with the meter rollout. Critics have complained he had no experience overseeing a parking system.

The mayor in an interview last June had stood behind the camera-equipped meters and Adams: “There’s more work to be done. It’s still going to need a little tweaking. (But) it’s going to settle in.”

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