Articles, Enrichment, Political

Delving into Athens’ parking-ticket operation

[dropcap]L[/dropcap]iving in Athens, OH can have some amazing attributes, and others that are, well, a little obnoxious and irritating.

Whether returning to your car after class and seeing a lovely ticket on your front windshield for an expired meter, or circling through Uptown Athens praying to the parking gods for an open spot that is relatively close to Chipotle, a lot of us can confidently say we have experienced parking complications within this small town.

But, have you ever wondered who is in charge? Who are those persons patrolling the streets and giving out tickets for parking violations and expired meters?

These individuals are a part of Athens Parking Enforcement, which is a relatively small operation that consists of one supervisor, four parking enforcement officers, a data entry clerk and a meter repair technician.

This division of the Athens Police Department seeks to patrol parking throughout the city through the enforcement of meters and the issuance of tickets for parking violations.

Captain Ralph Harvey, who is the supervisor of Athens Parking Enforcement, works to manage and assist the four officers – Charlene Cravens, Connie Lewis, Jennifer McClain-Eskey, and Trinny Williams – as well as the meter repair technician, Randy Fulks, and the data entry clerk, whose position is currently not filled.

According to Harvey, the data entry clerk handles a majority of the office work, Fulks repairs and maintains all meters within the city and the officers focus on patrolling the parking.

“There are four parking enforcement officers – meter attendants. Three of them are assigned to…walking patrols,” continued Harvey.

The fourth parking enforcement officer, Wilson, can be spotted around Athens in the parking enforcement jeep. Wilson generally patrols 24-hour parking and watches outlying areas that the walking officers are not able to reach, said Harvey.

Harvey oversees all six individuals, which often requires handling bills and making sure all workers have the proper tools and supplies to efficiently do their job.

“Basically, I manage them. There’s very little in the way of training or anything like that that I need to do with them. Generally, it is just getting them the tools that they need to do their job,” said Harvey.

Harvey also administers time-off requests, complaints regarding the parking enforcement officers and any appeals.

According to the Athens City Police 2013 Annual Report, Cravens dished out the most parking tickets out of all four enforcement officers in 2013, with a total of 5,771. Williams awarded the second most violations during that same year, accumulating 4,997 tickets.

A large majority of parking tickets were issued due to expired meters, with 12,365 violations in 2013.

While some may find the meter enforcement quite strict in Athens, Nick Hirshon, an Ohio University graduate student and teaching fellow, believes this level of enforcement is quite normal.

“I lived in New York City before moving to Athens last year, and there’s more parking here than there in general. New York is known for strict parking enforcement too,” said Hirshon. “Meter enforcers walk up and down the streets taking note of when meters will expire, and they cite you almost as soon as your time runs out. So I’m used to it.”

Despite the seemingly large number of tickets reported, the Athens City Police 2013 Annual Report shows a large decline in issued parking tickets within the past nine years.

Although the numbers have fluctuated back and forth, peaking in 2008 and then starting to drop in 2009, overall parking tickets have declined from a total of 27,658 in 2004 to 21,779 in 2013. These totals included tickets issued by all four enforcement officers, as well as various police officers.

From his own observations, Harvey believes a few main factors are to blame for the decline in parking tickets.

“The change to semesters had some effect on it. I think what it did more was level it out,” Harvey said while explaining that ticket issuances have been more evened-out due to the longer semesters and shorter breaks.

Harvey also mentioned the continuous construction occurring throughout Athens, and its various effects.

“I think the bigger factor this year is the amount of construction going on Uptown. When there’s less parking Uptown there’s going to be less parking tickets written,” said Harvey.

“Because there’s more construction, a lot of people I think are discouraged from coming Uptown. They don’t want to deal with the traffic issues,” explained Harvey.

Although there has been an overall waning of allotted parking tickets, the city’s revenue from parking tickets and meters has actually increased from its total of $841,991.46 in 2004 to a total of $894,548.59 in 2013.

Harvey, who makes approximately $80,000 a year, is an hourly employee that is not affected by this revenue, and is instead paid based on the police department’s budget.

Harvey insists that parking enforcement is not nearly as focused on profit as many may think.

“Some people think that parking enforcement is for a profit and that’s why it’s operated, but that’s not my thoughts on the matter. There’s more demand than there is spaces Uptown. So, parking enforcement encourages turnover,” said Harvey.

Hirshon agrees that there seems to be a large demand for parking Uptown.

“I don’t park Uptown very much, but there does seem to be a parking crunch. That may be an unavoidable circumstance in a bucolic college town like Athens. You’re trading an abundance of parking for a quaint small-town feel on Court Street,” said Hirshon.

Alex Navolanic, an O.U. student studying microbiology, believes Uptown is in need of extra parking spaces.

“The only time I really struggle to find a spot is when I go to park uptown,” Navolanic said.

Navolanic also mentioned that it would be easier for students if certain parking areas were available for free and for longer periods of time.

Harvey said there are particular reasons for the current two-hour parking limitations and the times in which the meters are enforced.

“You have to move your car every two hours and the reason behind that is because we need that space again, somebody else has business to do Uptown,” Harvey explained.

So, then, why hasn’t Athens created more parking spaces for the seemingly busiest part of town?

“The city has talked about it over the years about another parking garage, but then where? Even if you have the money, where do you put it? There’s no empty property Uptown now. The current one can’t be expanded vertically,” Harvey said.

Harvey isn’t sure that there really is a need for more parking spaces Uptown anyway, as the parking garage often is not maxed out, he said, and financially the city may not be able to afford it.

The addition of more parking spaces seems to be highly unlikely for the future, but the city has been discussing one particular new way that may make metered spaces more efficient – a cell-phone app in which drivers can pay their meter bill from their phone.

“You’ll probably see that eventually,” finished Harvey. “It may not be really soon but we’re looking at that.”

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