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Sacramento city auditor investigating parking meter program

Councilmember Steve Hansen said he asked for an audit into the parking meter program after hearing complaints about the meters for "quite a while".

The Sacramento city auditor is investigating the parking meter program at the request of a city councilmember.

In 2013, the city began a parking modernization initiative to update the city's parking technology. The city replaced mechanical meters with smart meters, allowing customers to use more convenient payment options such as credit cards. The program also gave drivers the ability to stay parked beyond posted limits and reserve parking in advance for events.

The city also rolled out the ParkMobile app which allows customers to pay for parking on smart meters from their mobile phone.

However, the new way to pay may be causing headaches for some drivers.

Councilmember Steve Hansen said he asked for an audit into the parking meter program after hearing complaints about the meters for "quite a while". Hansen told ABC10, he heard similar complaints at a recent city council meeting and wanted to "get to the bottom of what's happening".

"I wanted an independent look at it," said Hansen.

He explained, while the city council serves as the legislative branch of the city, the group is also an oversight body.

The issue came into light following a report from the Sacramento Business Journal, which uncovered an increase in the number of expired meter parking citations that have been challenged and overturned since 2015, when the City went live with the Parkmobile app. The report showed a spike in the number of tickets dismissed since August 2016.

The City dismissed nearly 4,000 citations over improperly expired meters this year-- nearly twice the number of dismissals over the first 10 months of 2016, according to the Sacramento Bee.

Hansen represents the city council district which covers the downtown and midtown area, where drivers use the smart meters. Although the idea behind the smart meters and the ParkMobile app is to modernize parking, the use of technology can come with problems at times. Hansen agrees this could be part of the issue.

"Technology has been deployed at a large scale and I don't know whether they're functioning as they should," said Hansen.

Sacramento city auditor, Jorge Oseguera, said his office is currently looking into whether or not the parking citation complaints stem from an isolated issue or if it's an ongoing problem. He said, Hansen contacted him on Nov. 9 about doing an audit and his office began their investigation on Tuesday, Nov. 14.

Oseguera said the team will be reviewing data and also look into what other cities with smart parking systems are doing.

ABC10 reached out to the City of Sacramento and received a letter the city manager, Howard Chan, shared with the mayor and city council earlier this week.

In the letter, the city manager acknowledges a cellular service disruption that occurred on Oct. 10 through Oct. 26. The letter states, 364 customers who used the ParkMobile app to pay for parking during this time received a parking citation in error. Parking staff dismissed all the citations related to the glitch and sent apology letters to the customers affected, according to Chan's letter.

The city manager disputes the reports of this being an issue beyond the October outage.

The letter states, "We do not believe this is a widespread issue," and said the cellular issue that occurred in October with ParkMobile was the first of its kind and was an "anomaly". The City addressed and fixed the issue immediately, according to the letter.

The City argues, the full scope of the data isn't being considered. The City said, since 2013, more parking meters have been added and the operating hours have been extended to as late as 10 p.m. in downtown and midtown.

The parking staff has issued nearly 211,000 meter-related citations since 2015 and of those, nearly 8,880 were dismissed, which amounts to less than one percent of total meter transactions dismissed, according to the Chan's letter.

Marycon Razo, spokesperson for the City, said when looking at contested citations, reasons for citations can be the fault of the customer just as it can be the City's. She explained, dismissals can be approved regardless of who's at fault.

She also said, as with any technology there could be glitches from time to time.

"We welcome a review of our data which could show either an anomaly or other details," said Razo.

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