A private company could soon be handing out tickets in downtown Omaha, as the city gears up for several shifts in the way it handles parking enforcement.
In September, the city outsourced management of its seven garages and five surface lots to Republic Parking. Now officials are looking to add more responsibilities to that company's Omaha operations: writing citations, collecting fines and maintaining parking meters.
Today, the Omaha City Council will get its first look at an ordinance that would add private companies' employees to the list of people approved to maintain parking meters. It's a required step before officials return to the council with a new contract for Republic, which would formally make it Omaha's parking enforcer.
Ken Smith, the city's parking manager, said he hopes to get the revised deal to the council shortly after it votes on the first ordinance. That's likely to happen in mid-January.
The city currently pays Republic Parking $3,500 per month for its work at garages and surface lots. If Republic takes over enforcement, Smith said, the Public Works employees currently tasked with those duties would be reassigned to the department's traffic division.
In the meantime, the city is making some parking changes.
Gone are the tickets tucked inside orange envelopes. The city is trying out a new system of citations that are on a single sheet of waterproof, tear-proof paper, placed alone on windshields.
The new citations also direct delinquent parkers to a new website, parkomaha.com, where tickets can be paid online.
In the future, people will be able to contest their tickets through the website, Smith said.
Smartphone users can download a new app (for iPhone or Android phones) that will allow them to pay for time on a meter.
The system will work on both the new, credit card-operated meters and the old-fashioned coin variety.
Smith said it will be a little confusing: The meters won't necessarily show the time paid for by phone, but parking enforcement workers will check on their own devices when the meter was plugged.
This week, city crews are placing numbered stickers on every meter so that people can identify them when they pay. All the meters should be marked in a couple of weeks.
Use of the credit card meters, which were installed in April, has increased. Smith said about 30 percent of users of those meters pay by credit card, with the rest still opting for coins.
Once the app system is up and running, Smith said, he expects a near-equal split among the three types of payment: credit card, smartphone and coins.