Opinion: 'Streamlining' the city's residential parking program, really? | April 29, 2022 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - April 29, 2022

Opinion: 'Streamlining' the city's residential parking program, really?

by Mickie Winkler

In 2019, Palo Alto decided to streamline its Residential Preferential Parking program as part of a citywide overhaul of its parking system.

As part of that overhaul, residents who lived in areas that required street permits would be eligible to get virtual (paperless) permits for their vehicles, which would be uploaded into the city's parking permit database and read by license plate readers. Everyone else who parked over 2 hours would get ticketed.

And of course, to help manage the growing workload of the new streamlined system, the city created two new positions for the Office of Transportation: a parking manager and a transportation engineer. To fund the new positions, residents would now have to pay $50 (plus an administrative fee) for the permits, which previously were free.

Parking management provider Duncan Solutions was paid to roll out the residential permit program. On March 1, the opening day when the new program kicked off, I applied for a virtual permit, as well as two old-fashioned hang tags for my visitors. According to Duncan Solutions, approved permits are processed within 72 hours and should arrive in the mail no more than 14 business days later.

As of April 13, I was still waiting for the hangtags, which I paid for sometime in mid-March, and I had no idea whether my virtual permit was active — though I did get a sign to print out and put on my car dashboard with a virtual permit number on it.

As I mentioned earlier, I applied for my vehicle permits on March 1. The process was torture: First, I went to the city website and was redirected to another site for my neighborhood parking area. All other visitors, I noticed, were directed to "Duncan Solutions Permit Portal." After going to the specific site for my neighborhood, I was then redirected, once again, to Duncan Solutions like everyone else.

Once on the Duncan Solutions portal, I signed in and signed up for my permits, uploaded my driver's license and registration as instructed, and filled out one very weird form. After 10 days, nothing, so I emailed Duncan for a response. Within one week, I received an account number. What a great verification of my existence, which I was beginning to doubt.

I have gotten parking permits in Palo Alto before, so the city and the Department of Motor Vehicles know that I live in the Downtown neighborhood even though my driver's license still has me listed on Sand Hill Road. Duncan Services didn't know this, so I sent the company a copy of my rental agreement. I finally was able to pay for two hangtags.

In my exuberance, I called Duncan Solutions to check on my virtual tag. When I offered my name and account number, I was told by a very nice service rep that they had no record whatsoever of my name or my account number. Aggghhhh!

I told the service rep, "Thank you so very much," and gently hung up the phone.

What an unfortunate, unforgivable and pathetic mess.

Who is responsible? The city of Palo Alto, of course. Despite the fact that we have more employees per population than almost any other city in California, Palo Alto decided it needed to contract out this key process to an obviously unprepared group.

Since that incident, the situation has seemed to improve:

* The city website now directs everyone to Duncan, including residents in my area;

* Duncan has now posted a simple 15-page guide on how to apply for permits;

* it's my understanding that the city temporarily postponed ticket enforcement until it transitioned to the new permit program;

* and the city now coaches frustrated people like me who have been obliterated from the system but never had a previous problem securing a residential permit.

The city also apparently verified my existence and instructed Duncan Solutions to allow me to pay $50 (plus the processing fee) for a virtual permit, proof of which, as I said, is now pasted forever to the dashboard of my car.

Mickie Winkler is a former Menlo Park mayor and author of "Politics, Police and Other Earthing Antics." You can email her at [email protected]


Posted by SRB
a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 29, 2022 at 7:35 am

SRB is a registered user.

"a simple 15-page guide" that will solve it :)

Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 29, 2022 at 7:52 am

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

The state of CA is now invested in the DMV's Real Id program which requires specific identification of where you live for the purposes of voter Identity and provision of ballots for voting. Where people live helps in the process of how CA funds are allocated to cities. the writer of this article has moved but not updated that information in the DMV data base.

I will not pretend to know how the company Duncan Solutions does it's job but it has to start with veritable data as a baseline for permitting. That is the DMV system which is also used to track where people live, where ballots are sent, and census data used to allocate state funds.

The city needs to educate people when a new program is started as to how it works and what to expect. Also what the resident has to do to effectively use it.

Posted by NeilsonBuchanan
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 29, 2022 at 8:58 am

NeilsonBuchanan is a registered user.

Ten years ago I was among dozens of leaders who successfully lobbied city council to implement a permit parking "system". Resistance from city council and business community was significant but city council stewardship eventually found a balance for commercial parking vs neighborhood quality. The council committed to continuous improvement of the parking programs, but the commitment has been less than robust.

I am not surprised that Ms. Winkler may have gotten a permit without proof of residency. I am not surprised that the new permit system is not user friendly and that it failed continuity of service.

There are three root causes dragging down quality parking programs for residential neighborhoods AND for University and California Avenue commercial cores.

First, city council and staff have a pattern of trying to do too much without adequate resources and staffing. When systems are not tested and improved over time, they will fail. Now Palo Alto is implementing a new system for neighborhoods and seems to be experiencing basic problems of implementation and functionality.

Second, Covid forced city staff into work-from-home conditions which hampered hands-on implementation and interface with residents who have years of experience. Covid is a legit limiting factor but there may be issues greater than the hurdle of a totally new system. Is the user interface proven and friendly for 2022? Will the system provide the management data sought by City Council to manage parking within the residential neighborhoods AND within the commercial cores.

Third, will City Council address the elephant in the room? Public and private parking capacities in the University Avenue commercial core have never been managed properly. As a result, one square mile of residential neighborhoods is used to provide hundreds of commercial parking spaces. I won't try to address this issue now but I will address high cost of free parking in mid-May when city budget are examined,

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 29, 2022 at 9:01 am

Online Name is a registered user.

Sure, "educate" the residents rather than the incompetent contractor and all city staffers responsible for "managing" the contractor. We need to increase our unfunded pension liabilities to outpace inflation.

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