Monday, October 10, 2011

ACS and Indy's Parking Meter Contract; How Do We Get Out of This Thing?

Last year when Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard handed out a 50 year contract to ACS to run our parking meters he promised us the parking meters would not only be modernized, they would be better run.  I had doubts about that.  Typically when you hand a company a monopoly via a long term contract, there is no incentive for that company to provide quality service.  Still my number one complaint with the deal was that we could have done this ourselves and kept 100% of the revenue instead of agreeing to give away 70% of it to ACS for the next 50 years.

Indianapolis parking kiosk
I at least thought though there would be a few good years before ACS's poor service (and our inability to do anything about it) became an issue.  I was wrong.  It took only a few months.

Of my last seven attempts to use a credit card at a downtown parking kiosk, only two were successful.  Four times the kiosk would not take any credit card I tried (or any that the others waiting to park tried.)  On the fifth occasion, it did take a card but would only allow me to put a quarter on at a time.  Thus, given I had a project downtown that would take two hours, I had to go through the process of entering the credit card eight times.

Even when a kiosk takes credit cards, there is almost always a line of people waiting to use it.  That is a problem if you're pressed for time.  The single meters are so much easier to use, even with the credit cards.  I have never had a problem with any of them.  With the kiosks there is almost always problems.  As a side note, I've noticed that a lot of people do not know how to park when the meters have been removed. They instead will straddle two parking spaces, not understanding that they're supposed to park on either side of the metal poles designating the parking spaces.

WRTV last month did a report in the large number of complaints about malfunctioning parking meters and improperly issued tickets, a concern that Mayor Ballard treated with utter disdain.

Likewise, attorney and IUPUI professor Sheila Kennedy wrote about problems her students reported:
Yesterday, in my Media and Policy class, a student raised the issue of how poorly local media had covered the administration’s privatization of the water company and parking meters. That led another student to complain that she had received a ticket despite having paid the fee–and was helpless to prove her payment since the meters don’t dispense receipts.

Her complaint opened a floodgate. Out of the 23 students in class, no fewer than 8 of them reported similar problems. Several had attempted to complain–complaints that, as one put it, were “blown off.” One student who had paid with a credit card was told the only way she could get a refund was to bring in her Visa bill. Another reported that her credit card was charged twice; when she tried to get the improper extra charge removed, the response was “how do we know you didn’t park twice?”
As Kennedy notes, we gave away all chance to demand the vendor provide quality service
So what can we do about ACS's crappy service?  Well, since the City designed the 10 year out provision so that it could never actually be used, we can threaten that if ACS doesn't get its act together, we will not renew the contract when it expires ... in 2060.


Jon said...

So why isn't the Democrat candidate for mayor beating up the mayor over the ACS deal or the water company deal? Neither deal was necessary, the deal terms are ludicrous and neither will benefit the taxpayers.

Nicolas Martin said...

The word "ourselves" is inapt. They who run the government are not we who pay taxes. They who rule our lives are not we who are ruled. Neither I nor anyone person I know could have played any role in installing, maintaining, and obtaining revenue from parking meters. We have no more power under democracy than we would under monarchy, and probably considerably less freedom.

Every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under. - H.L. Mencken said...

Sooner or later a clever high school kid will figure out how to game these purportedly "secure" machines and as soon as the contract becomes unprofitable due to such theft it will be abandoned. I suggest a wagering pool [along the lines of proposition betting as the English do] on when it happens.

Gary R. Welsh said...

That's not how it normally turns out, Steve. ACS has had security breaches in the past that caused thousands of people's credit cards and other personal information to be accessed by hackers. No skin off its corporate back but plenty of harm to innocent consumers.

Paul K. Ogden said...


You raise a good question. Both should be good issues, though she's already talking how she'd spend the water company money differently. The parking meter 50 year contract should be a slam dunk. I don't know why she's not using it. Or the Pacer deal for that matter. People would turn on Ballard in a heart beat for either of those two things.

marksmall2001 said...

The response to anyone's personal problems w/the kiosks is simple, and spread on a anner on a Washington Street parking garage: Park Here/No Tickets. Oh yeah, one or two of the parking garage companies are shareholders in ACS. I am sure those companies would not try to manipulate the situation for their economic benefit.

Cara said...

Jon, you must be a Republican, and Paul, I already know that you are. Only a Republican would ask why Kennedy is not jumping over the parking meter fiasco. Because we Democrats aren't very good at politicking.

I like the new single meters, but the kiosks are awful. There aren't enough of them (I have never NOT had to wait in a line), and they often malfunction. One space I parked at showed I had over 3 hours of time. I thought the limit was 2. And for those of us who park for business, a receipt for tax purposes would be nice.

Downtown Indy said...

I was downtown for the first time in a while and saw the new markers (sans meter heads) for the first time.

Short black poles with those flat metal things on top -- hard to see even in daylight, waist-high and low enough for someone to fall onto, and with those pieces on top I say we are just about certain to see someone get seriously hurt by them one day.

Cato said...

Nic, your 8:24 post cannot be more accurate.

Nicolas Martin said...

Cato, we repelled the British for this!? In every imaginable way Americans are more oppressed by the present regime than they were by the British of yore. Coincidentally, in more recent times the people of the British colony of Hong Hong were freer and more prosperous -- without democracy -- than those living in the democratic socialist UK.

Sean Shepard said...

Jon. I would guess nobody is beating up the mayor on those things because they would have done the same ill-advised deal.

There were other options but nobody was really interested in pursuing them since (presumably) their buddies, friends, cronies, contributors, entrenched law firms or whatever else weren't proposing or profiting from them.