Photo | Lagniappe

A new parking contract will install advanced parking meters with credit card readers and smartphone access.

The act of temporarily immobilizing illegally parked vehicles in downtown Mobile could be coming to an end, if one City Council member has his way.

Councilman Levon Manzie on Monday introduced an amendment to the city ordinance regulating privately owned parking lots downtown that would ban the act of booting vehicles. He said he asked for the change after taking an “inordinate” number of complaints about “aggressive booting” from restaurant owners and patrons. Manzie pointed to a complaint he received from a downtown restaurant owner complaining that customers from New Orleans were booted after becoming five minutes overdue in a paid parking spot after spending more than $1,000 on dinner.

“Some other cities don’t allow it,” Manzie said of booting. “It’s time for us to do the same.”

Manzie said if a remedy for aggressive booting is not advanced, he fears a push westward for restaurant patrons looking for a better parking situation.

“Downtown restaurants are at a distinct disadvantage,” he argued, adding that he is interested in having a conversation and coming up with a remedy both sides could agree to.

“This issue merits some action from the leadership of Mobile,” he said. “My preference is complete prohibition, but I’m willing to have further discussion.”

Councilman Joel Daves said he feels finding a balance would be the right thing to do.

Council attorney Wanda Cochran suggested towing could be an option for lot owners. But citing difficulty moving trucks in and out of tight spaces, Councilman Bess Rich said towing may not be an available option for everyone.

Chris Lawson of New Orleans-based Admiral Enforcement said booting is a better option for the customer than towing because it costs less. It’s roughly $100 for a boot and can be upward of $350 for a tow.

“We are not in the towing business,” he said. “We think booting is a better alternative for our customers.”

While they don’t have a license to tow, Lawson said the company  recommends towing if a vehicle has been unpaid in a parking lot for 48 hours straight.

“If I had to choose the penalty, I’d choose booting because my car is there and it’s cheaper,” Daves said.

Lawson, whose company has a contract with Premium Parking in Mobile, said they institute a self-regulated 15-minute grace period between the time the digital system indicates a vehicle owner is in violation and the time a boot is placed on the vehicle.

While options besides booting and towing exist for parking lot companies, Lawson argued they are ineffective. For instance, he said, in California companies write citations but they are rarely paid.

New parking contract

While the council is looking to possibly change lot parking, a new contract with Republic Parking, out of Chattanooga, Tennessee, is set to change the way visitors to downtown pay for on-street parking.

Chief Procurement Officer Don Rose said the new three-year contract would replace 400 existing meters downtown with advanced meters that take credit cards and link to a smartphone app. The app would allow users to add money to a meter even if they are miles from the vehicle.

“Republic is excellent at embracing new technology,” Rose said. “This contract is meant to improve the parking experience.”

Republic has agreements with such cities as Baltimore, Charlotte and Tallahassee.

The cost of the new meters, totaling roughly $360,000, would be paid for through the life of the contract. In addition to the new meters, Republic would replace and improve parking signage.

The city would pay a management fee to Republic of almost $2,200 per month or a total of $77,976 over the three years. Republic would also be paid an annual incentive fee totaling 8.5 percent of meter revenue.

Rose said seven companies responded to a request for proposals for a new parking contract. Of those, four were interviewed, including Republic and SP Plus, the current contractor. Rose said he expects the new contract to be revenue neutral when compared to the current contract.

SP Plus has been under contract since about 2000, Rose said. Since 2014, SP Plus has been working on a month-to-month basis and it was time to re-bid the contract, he said.

The parking enforcement hours will not change, Rose said. They will continue enforcement on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. The city would receive all the revenue from citations, he said, although Republic would handle the issuance of tickets. The contract also allows Republic to set up a parking website for the city. The website would provide pertinent information related to downtown on-street parking.