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New Technology Aims to Help Downtown Parking Problems

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - The City of Cedar Rapids parking department, Park Cedar Rapids, will soon be scanning the license plates of drivers who park in the street downtown. Leaders announced a new technology on Monday that they believe will encourage parking space turnover and help them collect unpaid parking tickets.

Jon Rouse, General Manager of Park Cedar Rapids, said there are currently no plans to use this technology to identify expired spaces. "We are really focusing on better collections, versus writing more tickets. We will be out there trying to actively collect those outstanding revenues," he said. Rouse added that outstanding revenues are typically 5 or more parking citations.

He is also hopeful the technology will help generate more turnover downtown so businesses consistently have available parking for customers. "They are paying for the meter and then in some cases they are paying for the meter again. There is actually a parking policy in place that requires them to move from that block space," he said.

Currently, Park Cedar Rapids workers chalk each tire of the vehicles that have overstayed their welcome. Rouse said this will allow them to automate the process by quickly recognizing vehicle that have exceeded the parking limit. "It will be able to actively patrol downtown in about an hour and a half, instead of what it's currently taking which is two and a half employees about eight hours," he said. Rouse added that this will not eliminate any jobs, it will just allow Park Cedar Rapids to better allocate their resources, allowing more staff members to provide customer service instead.

Parking revenue paid for the technology, costing a little more than $30 thousand. "In this year alone we expect it to save us an excess of $50 thousand, so the return on the investment is essentially less than a year," said Rouse. Park Cedar Rapids will not keep license plate numbers on file for more than a day, but Rouse said the technology will be able to perform occupancy and utilization studies.

Toby O'Claire, of Cedar Rapids, parks downtown often. He said there is a problem with people staying in the same spot all day but believes there are better ways to spend parking revenue. "They should put that money towards getting better machines that are going to work 100 percent of the time," he said. O'Claire is also concerned with where his license plate information will go. While leaders said it will be trashed at the end of the day, he still isn't comfortable with it. "Even though they say that, it still could be put in some system somewhere," he added.

This technology is used in other cities around the country, but Rouse said he is not aware of any other city in Iowa having it in place. Park Cedar Rapids will start testing and implementation on Tuesday.

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