Company poised to profit from Providence parking meter expansion

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – It was never a matter of if Providence would add 700 new parking meters in the current fiscal year. It was a matter of where they would go.

With more than half of those locations still up in the air, some business owners are now crying foul over the city’s decision to use a company to study potential metered spaces that also earns a tiny cut of every parking ticket issued in Providence.

Xerox ACS will be paid $1.70 for each of the roughly 200,000 parking tickets city drivers will receive in the current fiscal year, according to a contract obtained by Target 12. For at least the past year, the company has also helped Providence study parking-space occupancy rates in neighborhoods across the city as officials planned the expansion.

Leo Perrotta, Providence’s parking administrator, told Target 12 Xerox is not tasked with making recommendations on where to place parking meters, but it does provide the city with statistics that show how often parking spaces are filled throughout the city. If a street or neighborhood routinely has occupancy rates above 80%, it’s a good candidate for parking meters.

“They give us the data and that’s all they do, and everything is done in our office,” Perrotta said.

Providence parking meters

On Federal Hill, the data was clear.

When Xerox reviewed parking spaces on or around Atwells Avenue last April, weekday occupancy rates hovered around 90%. On a Friday night, nearly all of the spaces were filled. After the budget for the current 12-month fiscal year that ends June 30 was approved, the city added 220 metered spaces and heard few complaints.

In other neighborhoods, concerned business owners and residents have been more vocal. On the city’s East Side, Xerox’s studies have regularly shown that Wickenden Street is well above the 80% threshold and Perrotta indicated it is highly likely meters will be added. But shop owners, like Marc Adler, co-owner of a hardware store, have said the paid spaces will hurt their businesses.

Over on Hope Street, merchants were lining up to advocate against the addition of meters after at least one of Xerox’s studies showed high occupancy rates in that neighborhood. But Perrotta said Thursday the city is no longer considering meters for Hope Street because further studies have shown occupancy rates below 80%.

Still, Dixie Carroll, a co-president of the Hope Street Merchants Association and a co-owner of clothing shop J Marcel, said the city shouldn’t be using Xerox to study occupancy rates.

“Where would there ever be a situation where it would benefit Xerox to not recommend installing parking meters?” Carroll asked.

A spokesperson for Xerox did not respond to a request for comment Thursday. The city has already paid Xerox about $761,000 in the current fiscal year, although that income also includes revenue from Providence’s red light cameras. (The firm has been paid about $266,000 for parking tickets this year.)

The average parking ticket for failing to pay a meter is $25. The fine doubles after 14 days and triples after 28 days. Once a ticket hasn’t been paid for 30 days, the recipient is summoned to municipal court.

Records show Providences has generated about $2.4 million in meter revenue in the current fiscal year, making it the most profitable year on record. (Perrotta said the decision to have every meter accept credit cards has contributed to a spike in revenue.) The city issued 157,000 parking tickets as of March 30, putting it on pace to clear 200,000 by June 30.

To date, only about 330 of the planned addition of 700 metered spaces are in place. (In all, the city expects to have about 2,100 meters by the end of the year.) The slower-than-expected process of getting all the new spaces in place means the city will likely fall about $600,000 short of the $4.2 million in revenue it projected in its budget.

Perrotta acknowledged the increase in parking meters will also pump the city’s coffers, but he maintained the city isn’t focused on handing out more tickets.

“We want to promote turnover and not give out tickets,” he said. “That’s the bottom line.”

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Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan

Tim White ( twhite@wpri.com ) is the Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter: @TimWhiteRI

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