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City chooses private company to run parking meters

Posted: 4:53 PM, Apr 25, 2019
Updated: 2019-04-29 10:26:26-04
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Nashville is moving forward with plans to privatize its on-street parking.

The Mayor's office announced it intends to award LAZ Parking a contract to privatize metered parking. It is a 30-year contract that would generate $300 million for the city.

The contract must still be approved by the Traffic and Parking Commission and the Metro Council.

The Mayor wants the contract approved by the end of June so that up front payments from LAZ Parking of $17 million, in each of the first two years of the contract, can be applied to the city's budget.

If approved by the council, LAZ Parking hopes to have new meters in place as early as September.

Free street parking on Elliston Place near Rotier's would likely go away under the deal.

Kahila Gann has worked at the famous burger place for 20 years and says parking has always been a problem.

"We already have complaints about parking, so I think that just adds to the list of complaints that people have," Gann said.

The plan would also replace old meters like the ones directly in front of Rotier's with more modern technology that allows people to pay on their phones.

Councilman-at-large Bob Mendes says he supports updating Metro's meters, but he's concerned by how quickly Metro wants to close a deal with a private company to plug holes in its budget.

"I think the city could definitely modernize its parking," Mendes said.

But he added, "The speed that we are going about this raises red flags."

Metro is now in the process of hammering out the details on a contract with LAZ Parking Georgia, LLC, which is a subsidiary of Connecticut-based LAZ Parking.

In a statement, Mayor Briley said the deal is "great news for Nashville," and "sets a new standard for how cities can partner with the private sector to improve urban mobility, support local businesses, and adapt smart-city strategies that will better prepare us for the future."

Metro plans to install 500 additional metered spaces every year for the first four years of the contract, but exact locations for the new meters has not yet been determined.

Metro has also agreed to increase metered parking rates by 25 cents an hour, more than double fines from $11 to $25 and extend the hours of operation at all meters until 10pm.

Currently parking at meters is free after 6pm.

Metro will seek Council approval to charge for parking at meters on Sundays, which is also currently free.

The Mayor has already asked the volunteer Traffic and Parking commission to approve raising rates, but the Metro Council will get final approval.

"I do think we are going to be asked to vote on this quickly," Mendes said.

One member of the Traffic and Parking Commission , Betsy Williams, said the decision weighs heavily on her, and she felt rushed to approve the rate increases that consultants presented to them at the March meeting.

"I was not personally prepared, knowledge-wise, to really offer the vote that I did offer," Williams said at the April meeting.

Metro is in such a hurry because it counted on an additional $15 million in the current budget year from selling parking rights.

"The current budget was built around the idea of doing this," Mendes said.

In January, Metro nearly awarded the contract to another company, but LAZ Parking protested that decision.

At the time, LAZ Parking claimed Metro had a "gross misunderstanding" of its proposal and was leaving as much as "$74 million" on the table.

And when they lost that protest, LAZ Parking kept fighting by appealling to the city's Procurement Appeals Board. They stated Metro's decision to take less money from a competing company was not "in the best interests of the citizens of Nashville."

This time, LAZ Parking won after submitting a deal that works out to an average of $10 million a year over 30 years. Metro currently makes $1.5 million a year from its parking system.

But councilman Steve Glover says our on-street parking system will need to bring in much more than that to pay for this deal.

"Somebody's getting shafted here. The bottom line is it's the taxpayers of Nashville," Glover said.

One of the big questions is just how many new meters Metro intends to add.

After we reported that Metro's solicitation included maps showing new meters could pop up in neighborhoods across the city, the Mayor's office downplayed the idea.

They sent a letter to council members that stated new meters would not "necessarily be added to areas like Germantown and Five Points."

And although the Mayor's office did not rule out adding the meters in those areas, it stated "we believe the current system could be expanded by as many as 2,000 metered spaces" primarily downtown.

But bidders were told a different story.

The city's Request For Proposal of RFP told bidders the "on-street parking system could be expanded by as many as 4,500 metered spaces" and advises bidders they "should take into consideration the potential additional meters/spaces when responding to this solicitation."

"Right now there's different data points," Mendes said. "There's what's in the RFP, there's what's in the promotional materials we've gotten from the Mayor's office.

The city is hoping to finalize a deal with LAZ Parking by next week and hopes to get it approved by the Traffic and Parking Commission on May 13.

"The devil is in the details and we don't have the details," Mendes said.

Details include things like ending free parking on Sundays.

Although no study was done indicating the need to start charging on Sundays, city consultants told the Traffic and Parking Commission that charging on Sundays would make us more like our peer cities, including Denver.

But we discovered parking is still free on Sundays in Denver.

In fact cities like Boston, Atlanta, Seattle, New Orleans, Austin and Indianapolis allow free parking on Sundays.

READ MAYOR BRILEY'S STATEMENT REGARDING PARKING MODERNIZATION