license plate recognition downtown

Brent Finnegan -- January 29th, 2007

The Downtown Renaissance announced today that Downtown Parking Services will soon be using license plate recognition (LPR) devices to see if cars that are parked downtown have been there for too long. Some people don’t like the idea of LPR technology. Personally, I think there are bigger issues to worry about.

DPS is currently using chalk to mark car tires — a method that has been in use ever since parking spaces became more popular than hitching posts.

I’ve never personally experienced problems parking downtown. The only parking issue that has ever bothered me is the policy of ticketing or occasionally towing cars on Saturday or Sunday morning, which inadvertently encourages late-night drunk driving.

14 Responses to “license plate recognition downtown”

  1. Del Marvel says:

    Yeah, 25 grand versus a piece of chalk. More expensive has got to be better, right? Some questions:Is that license plate info just for use by the whoever is in charge of parking now or does it get sent to larger a database where it is sold to corporations, private investigators, used by federal law enforcement, etc? Second, who IS in charge of parking downtown now? What’s Downtown Renaissance got to do with it? And as far as revitalizing downtown, one big step they could take is to get rid of that frequently incredibly rude woman who is in charge of writing tickets. Without a doubt, she is personally responsible for chasing a lot of customers out of downtown over the years.

  2. Del Marvel says:

    Oh, yeah, while I’m at it. As far as expenses go, I think I’m correct in saying that the person writing tickets now gets her government car for a job that used to be and still easily be done on foot. Will that LPR technology have to be automobile based as well?

  3. finnegan says:

    I’ve seen similar comments about her before. Luckily, I’ve never been ticketed there, so we’ve never met.

    Parking is under the Public Works department. According to the city site, the same people that work at the HDR are in charge of the maintenance and leases for parking downtown. Beyond that, I don’t know what the HDR has to do with it. It was in the newsletter.

    I can try to find answers to your other questions…

  4. Brent,

    I think Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance runs parking in Harrisonburg. Lisa Ha is in charge of Parking.

    The rude woman’s name is Barbara Goins, who frequently parks illegally while giving others tickets. She drives the nice newer Chevy and she’s frequently driving it OUTSIDE of the downtown area (sheetz, valley mall) running personal business.

    I have heard that she actually drives the city vehicle home, but I don’t have personal knowledge of that.

    She’s even had parked cars towed off of private property for outstanding parking tickets, which is illegal…and I loved having the P.D. give me the $75 back for the illegal tow.

  5. writergirl says:

    Barbara has another job as well and if you meet her there you’d be amazed at what a nice person she is. I work right off of court square and yes, she parks illegally to ticket all the time. I don’t know what system will work the best for downtown, but what they have now really isn’t cutting it. I have paid parking in the deck, but most of the people in the office got ticketed right after all of the parking changes due to a mistake on our part with our permit renewal. You would be amazed at the lengths we had to go too just to find out how to find out if the tickets were paid (our office manager actually took care of paying the tickets). She had paid the tickets, but we all got notices that they hadn’t been paid. Apparently there were about four different people that had to have their hands on the things before they got marked as being paid. It was a mess!

  6. Del Marvel says:

    Yeah, she acts real nice at her other job, even when she’s just been a jerk to you downtown. It’s kind of weird. Of course, I doubt she would keep that second job very long if she acted the way she often does in her city job. It isn’t right that she develops adversarial attitudes towards some people and doesn’t enforce the law equally for everyone. I don’t know how it is now with the meters gone (though I still hear stories) but when I was down there, she would hound some people and their customers by, for example, stopping and waiting so she could write a ticket the second the meter expired. For other businesses, she would stop in and warn the employees that she was there to give them a chance to run out and feed the meters thus defeating the whole purpose of keeping spots empty for retail customers. Isn’t it about time she took her pension and quit?

  7. I’ve seen her at the counter at the RMH Wellness Center…I agree with Del about the likeliness of her maintaining her job there with the attitude she carries while working for the City.

    I’ve seen her warn “friends” in the unit block of E. Market Street, too, when the meters were there.

  8. brian9379 says:

    The technology, ALPR, is more expensive than chalk…and much better. It virtually eliminates human error, can work in the dark and in the rain, and oh yeah…in a shift a parking enforcement officer could theoretically “chalk” tens of thousands of cars using ALPR…don’t think you could do that on foot. For a city, the use of ALPR for parking enforcement equates to a level of efficiency that they could never achieve with persons on foot and armed with sticks of chalk. The same system can also run plates against databases for unpaid citations, outstanding vehicle registrations, etc. The money spent on a system like this is repaid within months, if not weeks…due to the efficiencies gained and additional revenue they are able to collect.
    OK…I am a little biased since I am with PIPS Technology, the worldwide leader in ALPR…
    Don’t want to get caught? – obey the rules.

  9. finnegan says:

    Actually, forget what I said about Public Works. Apparently, Parking Services is under the city’s Economic Development department.

  10. David Troyer says:

    OK…I am a little biased since I am with PIPS Technology, the worldwide leader in ALPR…

    A little biased? haha, at least you admit to it. anyhow, welcome Brian!

  11. Del Marvel says:

    “Don’t want to get caught? – obey the rules”

    Just to play the Devil’s advocate (before Dave B. perhaps weighs in)—that sort of comment raises a red flag for me because it’s usually invoked to shut up civil libertarians whenever the power of the state is being increased.

    Brian, maybe you can answer my previous question: is the data accumulated by this device stored nationally and used by federal agencies or sold to corporations for marketing?

    As far as the financial return on a unit like this, since we’re spending time and energy trying to revitalize downtown, I have some reservations about subjecting the people down there to extra scrutiny just in the name of raising funds. Especially when in my opinion there really isn’t that much of a parking problem. It’s just one more disadvantage that downtown will have versus private shopping centers. If raising money is the issue, let’s pass a law and have one of these units rolling through the Valley Mall and Harrisonburg Crossing’s parking lots as well. Just on sheer numbers, the police will be able to find many more offenders out there.

  12. finnegan says:

    I emailed Lisa at the HDR. She gave me permission to reprint her email to me regarding these matters…

    “How much does it cost? We’re renting the unit initially to see how well it works with our parking area and the response from parking users. The City is not making any initial investment and the rental price is comparable to the monthly fee we are currently paying for database software.

    What will the HPD or the city do with the info gathered with that device? Information will be kept under the same security standards HPD uses and will be used for the sole purpose of record keeping for ticket escalations (tickets for overtime parking increase based on how many you have gotten in the past in order to discourage “scofflaws” who park illegally on a regular basis). Information will not be kept on vehicles that do not break the parking laws and will be discarded regularly, similar to the current system except digitalized.

    Does it go into a database? Will it be cross-checked with the HPD’s files? At this time, we don’t have plans to cross-check against HPD. The unit is to be used purely for parking enforcement.

    Chalking tires is a process with much opportunity for human error (people’s watches can differ, chalk marks can be wiped away, etc.). It is highly unpopular with both customers and patrollers. The handheld device eliminates the need to physically mark people’s tires and reduces almost all of the human error, ensuring parking space time limits are enforced in a consistent, fair manner. Although many car mounted systems (like AutoVu, which can cost upwards of $80,000 per vehicle) significantly increases the area a patroller can cover in a certain time, because our unit will be handheld, it will certainly increase efficiency, but not exponentially so. Our dream would be that noone ever violated the law and we never had to give parking tickets! Since this is unlikely to happen and business owners rely on turnover for customers and clients, enforcement is a necessity. Our goal for downtown is and will remain friendly, consistent enforcement – not volume of tickets and revenue.

    Responding to some of your reader comments: Barbara is probably the most misunderstood person in the City. The person who welcomes people at the Wellness Center is the same person who gives tickets downtown under different stressors. Please put yourself in her shoes. The downtown parking area is much larger than you may realize. Our night and weekend patrollers average 4 miles on foot every shift. Without a car to get from lot to lot, Barbara would be walking 8 miles every day, five days a week, in all weather conditions, bending and stooping several hundred times a day to mark tires. After 38 years, it is by no means an easy position for this grandmother, even with a vehicle. Her goal has always been to help keep spaces open for downtown customers, and although all patrollers are instructed not to wait for time to expire, there are certain areas where demand exceeds supply that need to be monitored more regularly.

    We thank the public for their patience as Downtown Parking Services is still in formation. In the past, parking has been handled by several different City departments, and we are continuing to make improvements by gradually moving all administration of downtown parking to one office under the Economic Development Department with a part-time manager (I split my time between HDR and Downtown Parking Services). I acknowledge that finding the correct person to speak to has often been a frustrating game of phone tag, but the situation has already improved dramatically over the last few months and will continue to improve. As always, your comments and suggestions for further improvements are welcome.”

  13. Del Marvel says:

    Thanks for getting us that info Lisa and Finnegan. That answers my questions and makes me feel a lot better about what they’re doing regarding the LPR devices. However, I don’t accept the rationalizations for rudeness from a public employee. If she is too old or can’t handle the “stressors” they should get somebody else. And I know for a fact that in the last twenty years she has helped some people feed the meters.

  14. Barnabas says:

    I was watching TV while at McDonalds waiting for my sausage biscuits. And I don’t remember what Channel it was but they were doing a piece on personalized billboards that would change to say things like
    “Hey Barnabas, Geico has great rates in Virginia, see what kind of rate you can get on your Escort”

    It uses the same technology as the plate reading. So I’m gonna go with YES being the answer to wether the information is sold.

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