Saturday, June 1, 2019

Briley pulls the plug on parking privatization plan.

By Rod Williams - Mayor Briley has  put the plan to privatize parking meters on hold. The plan would have added up to two thousand additional metered parking spots, increased rates and increased parking fines. The expansion of additional metered parking would have included residential streets near commercial hot spots such as 12th Ave South, Five Points, and Green Hills.

I am pleased to see the plan delayed.  To me, the plan seems like a desperate attempt to close a hole in the budget in an election year. The plan would have paid $34 million up front which would have filled a big budget hole.  I also had concerns about the way the contract was awarded. Metro announced that it intended to award the 30-year contract to LAZ Parking Georgia, LLC and had deemed the proposal of the other bidder as  non-responsive.  Metro says the other bidder omitted a  key financial spreadsheet to their proposal. NTN, the other bidder, says that was an inadvertent error and they would provide the missing document. NTN offered a better deal for the city.

The plan seemed desperate and rushed.  Anytime a city proposes major changes, the knee jerk reaction of people is going to be opposition.  I served in the Council during the time the city changed the way we pick up garbage.  At one time the city operated all of the trash pickup.  Garbage was picked up by metro employees from the back door of homes twice a week. Residents provided their own garbage cans.  When the plan to contract with private haulers and go to once-a-week alley or curbside rather than back door twice-a-week was announced, one would have thought the sky was falling.  The proposal met with widespread opposition. There was concern that metro employers would lose their job and people did not want to have to haul their own trash to the street. The plan eventually did pass and was the right thing to do and saved the city a mass amount of money over the years.  Reform cannot be rushed. The concept has to be sold and objections overcome.

An election year is the wrong time to do this.  I just assume the public's initial reaction is going to be opposition to change.  People seeking office will take a position favored by the public in order to gain an election advantage even when the public is uninformed and having a knee jerk reaction. Politicians play politics.  Many candidates for council have come out against the plan and mayoral candidates Cooper and Swain have both came out against it.  In a year without an election, people can more rationally and dispassionately evaluate a proposal.

Despite being pleased that the plan is being withdrawn and despite concern with the contract bid controversy and despite concern with the lack of transparency and detail and despite thinking the proposal seemed like a rushed attempt to plug a hole in the budget, I am in favor of the concept. Here is why:

  • The private sector can almost always do things better than government. 
  • Our parking meters are antiquated and I never carry pocket change
  • Modern meters can accept phone payment, credit card payments, and additional funds remotely rather than getting up and running out of a meeting to plug the meter.
  • New meters can alert those seeking a parking space to where parking spaces are available cutting down on aimless wandering hoping to find an empty space. This cuts down on street congestion.
  • Meter rates can be adjusted to allow peak pricing. When there is more demand for something prices should rise. 
  • Metro could modernize meters without privatizing them but the cost of the modernization, the capital cost, would be high and Nashville already has excessive debt. We don't have the money to do it on our own.
  • One of our highest cost of government is employee retirement and retiree health care cost. We should strive to reduce the size of the work force and avoid growing the size of the workforce whenever possible.
  • We should seek alternatives to raising taxes and privatizing parking meters would bring in a lot of money. The proposed deal would have brought in about $325 million by the time the deal expired in 2049.
While I am pleased that this deal is dead for now, I hope the next mayor and council will take it up again and this time, take time to explain the concept and make sure we get it right.  It is too important to be rushed.

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