Detroit's parking system would be better run by a private firm rather than the city. (Clarence Tabb Jr / The Detroit News)
City Council voted like old Detroit last week when it denied Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr’s request to collect proposals for bids on the city’s parking system. The move bows to unions and impedes progress as Detroit tries to emerge from bankruptcy.
A “yes” vote would have allowed the city to issue requests for proposals to gauge the value of Detroit’s parking system, which includes seven parking garages, more than 3,000 metered spaces — officials have said about half don’t work — and a towing service.
Privatizing the parking department would provide money to fix it immediately, provide Detroit with a more modern and accessible parking system, and potentially increase parking revenues for the city in the long haul.
Orr’s restructuring plan invests more than $1 billion in city services over the coming years, and selling some of the parking system would provide resources to help offset the expenses.
But only two council members, Saunteel Jenkins and George Cushingberry, Jr., were willing to give Orr the go-ahead. Other members said they didn’t feel the process was thorough enough.
The unions begged the council to vote no, even though current city parking employees would be prioritized in the hiring process and likely retain their jobs, but with different employers.
But the council should be making decisions based on what is best for all residents, rather than bowing to special interests that have contributed to the city's poor financial state.
Other city services, such as garbage pickup and street light replacement, have been fully or partially outsourced. A private company took over Detroit’s trash pickup in May, and service is improving.
Consultants for the city said its garages and meters require $40 million worth of improvements over the next 40 years.
The city has already increased parking ticket prices to $45 -- a fine higher than tickets in other more congested cities — to help cover the costs of fixing some of the thousands of broken meters and offset the administrative cost of processing tickets.
Privatized parking systems have been implemented recently in Chicago and Indianapolis. While Chicagoans have protested the move, it has saved money for the financially-distressed city.
And Indianapolis stands to make $300 million in shared revenues over the next 50 years, in addition to the $20 million it received upfront from the sale. Its operations, maintenance and technology has also been upgraded as part of the deal.
Detroit should work to find a similar arrangement, as it lacks the upfront funding to make any meaningful change to the current system.
Real change in the city requires a different attitude on the part of the council, and it should reconsider its vote on the parking proposal.