The City of Omaha is looking to outsource the operation of city parking garages and also might hire a private contractor to handle on-street parking enforcement.
Officials are taking proposals from parking management companies through June 26 and hope to have one in place to run the garages by Sept. 1.
Ken Smith, the city's parking manager, said bringing in an outside company will provide the city with two major benefits: a staff focused specifically on parking and expertise from a business that has run similar operations in other cities.
“There's no reason to start from scratch here,” he said. “Let's draw from their experience.”
Smith said the city isn't set on turning on-street parking duties over to a private company. But he said officials want to see how potential contractor costs compare with current expenses.
If a private company were hired to oversee that function, the funds collected from parking meters and parking tickets still would go to the city and the Omaha schools fund.
Omaha has made a series of changes to its parking operations in recent months.
In November, Smith became the city's first parking manager. Former Mayor Jim Suttle said Smith was to oversee adjustments that would cut the city's parking costs by more than $1 million over a three-year period, including updates to rates and enforcement hours.
The city recently finished installing 1,000 new meters that accept both coins and credit cards.
Parking at the new meters costs $1 an hour, the same rate as at the old two-hour meters.
Smith said the credit card function is beginning to catch on, with close to a quarter of users opting to swipe their card rather than plug the meter with quarters.
Within a year, he expects the balance will be 50-50.
Smith said he won't propose any changes to rates or hours in garages until a private operator has been hired.
The company will be responsible for a total of 4,199 parking spaces in seven city garages, along with 483 spaces in five surface lots.
“There are just so many things that have to go in place before I feel we're comfortable to do rate changes,” he said. “I want to make sure we have a balanced approach.”
It's not clear how city employees' responsibilities would change if private workers handled parking.
Smith said many of the city employees who handle parking also work on traffic duties, and would likely spend more time on that work.