Parking meters the new hot ticket in mayor's race

Feb 23, 2013

Over the past few weeks, the fight in the Cincinnati mayor’s race has been about the streetcar.

Roxanne Qualls for it; John Cranley against it.

This week, it is about parking meters and whether they should be leased to a private company, an issue that is going to be decided by Cincinnati City Council in the next few weeks.

Once again, Qualls for it; Cranley against it.

Don’t worry, the streetcar debate will come back. That debate is likely to go on all year, right up to election day.

But parking meters were the flavor of the week between Qualls and Cranley, the two top contenders to win the mayor’s office this fall.

Last Monday, City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr.  presented a plan that would turn over operation of the city’s 2,800 parking meters to Xerox, which operates 30 parking systems around the country.

The city would get $92 million upfront for the 30-year lease and an annual payment for the next 30 years.
Proponents of the plan call it “modernization” of the parking meter system in the city. Opponents call it “privatization.”

Call it what you will, but it is now officially a campaign issue.

The Cranley campaign pounced on this plan immediately, producing a 30-second web ad that will appear in on-line banners and on Facebook to direct people to a website,, where people can send online messages to Mayor Mark Mallory, Qualls and other council members stating their opposition to what Cranley calls the “privatization debacle.”

The 30-second ad features bits from Pete Witte, a long-time Price Hill community leader and business owner; council member Christopher Smitherman, and Cranley himself, who says that his opponent’s support of the plan “says to me that she’s got the wrong priorities.”

If you go to the website, you are told that the plan “gives a private for profit investment firm an incentive to issue tickets.”

“Because the plan allows the Wall Street fat cats to keep the money collected from issuing parking tickets, they will step up enforcement and write more tickets to recoup their $92 million investment,” the web site says.

Qualls, in an e-mail newsletter fired out to supporters by her campaign committee, sent a letter to the community from Dohoney explaining his plan in detail.

“Please take the time to read the manager’s letter, to dispel some of the inaccurate and misleading information that’s been circulating, before any details were known,’’ Qualls writes in the newsletter.

Qualls doesn’t specify who is producing the “inaccurate and misleading information,” but we are pretty sure she means Cranley.

In his letter, Dohoney says the parking system will “remain in the public realm,” in a “public-public partnership” with the Port Authority.

“The city has spelled out all rates, hours and enforcement,’’ Dohoney wrote. “This is not up to the operator.”

The parking “modernization” plan, Dohoney said, “is not a sale to a private corporation. The city will get the parking system and all improvements back at the end of the lease. The Port Authority, which is a public entity, will be the stewards of the system until that happens.”

The private sector part comes in the operation of the parking meters and the city’s garages and lots – Xerox gets the parking meters; Denison Parking runs the garages and lots.

Cranley, on his website, says the city is “planning to blow the $92 million for the deal in two years.”

And what will the city “blow” that $92 million on?

Dohoney says it will “jumpstart” the planned I-71/Martin Luther King Jr. Road interchange, add $4 million to the Smale Riverfront Park, help convert the ghost town known as Tower Place Mall into a parking garage and retail space and help put a 30-story mixed-use residential tower next door where the old Pogue’s garage is now, add $6.3 million to the city’s reserve account, and help balance the city’s 2014 and 2015 budgets.

And it will also mean higher parking rates, eventually – the downtown meter rate of $2 an hour will remain the same now, but will increase by 25 cents approximately every three years. And the meters – which don’t have to be fed after 5 p.m. now – will operate until 9 p.m. Parking will still be free on Sundays and holidays.

Qualls, in her newsletter, urged people to attend one of two public hearings slated for the legislation, where the committee she chairs, Budget and Finance, will hear from the public. The first is Monday at 6 p.m. in council chambers at City Hall; the second will be at 6 p.m. Wednesday, also in council chambers.

Clearly, the folks who sign up on will pack the hall.

And, if the plan is passed by council, the 30-second TV ads will no doubt start gearing up, and Cranley will take the ball, tuck it under his arm and try to run it over the goal line this fall.