NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk’s parking operations are returning to a more normal state, with numbers getting back to their pre-COVID levels and stepped-up enforcement resulting in more tickets issued, as a new hire prepares to take things “to the next level.”
James Emery began work in July as Norwalk’s assistant parking director, a new position. He “checked every one of the boxes” Norwalk was looking for and will “bring a fresh set of eyes on what we could do better,” Director of Transportation, Mobility, and Parking James Travers said to the Parking Authority.
Emery mentioned “challenges” and “the unique situation Norwalk is in,” and said, “I think we’ve got a long way to go. But I think with the team that I’ve met so far, I have no doubts that we can get there. And I’m just I’m really excited to see what we can do for the city and the citizens of Norwalk.”
Revenues are surpassing pre-COVID levels, driven by “transient” parkers as permit parking lags behind because employers are still working on return-to-work policies, Laz Parking Vice President Stathis Manousos, Business Development & Regional Manager said during the Aug. 25 meeting.
July’s revenues were 97% what the Authority saw in July 2019, pre-COVID, he said.
“We’ve done a great job still managing those expenses, and if you factor in the …additional repairs and maintenance that we’ve done in July… we’re back to really just over where we were on the surplus level, the operating surplus for July of 19. So that is a huge accomplishment I think and take a great job to everyone,” he said.
Transient parking, the on-street and parking garage usage, was up more than 70% over what it was two years ago, he said. “It’s actually the highest July numbers we’ve had in terms of demand in the last 10 years… a lot of that is coming from the Maritime Garage.”
That garage is 160% over what it did in 2019, he said, mentioning that the Maritime Aquarium opted into a state program to provide free admission.
Anyone under 18 years old could enter the aquarium for free if they were with a Connecticut resident, through Labor Day, in the Connecticut Summer at the Museum program.
But, “generally speaking, people are just anxious to get out and do things” and “virtually every location is, at or above pre COVID levels in terms of demand,” Manousos said.
Pay be cell phone transactions are way up, he observed.
“Statistically, right now, our pay-by-cell transactions are through the roof, compared to other municipalities in this size, which I think is an interesting statistic, and something that we should definitely keep our eye on when it comes to making future decisions,” Emery said. “Really, really good thing for sure.”
The Parking Authority held back on issuing citations during the COVID-inspired business slow down, stepping up the courtesy card program: sometimes, instead of giving tickets, parking officers left courtesy cards on vehicles telling people how much their ticket would have been.
Recently, the Authority has sought to return its courtesy card program to its original intent, “not an expectation” but a “pleasant surprise,” Manousos said in July.
There were 4,353 tickets issued in July, compared to 2,575 issued in July 2019, according to a report in the Aug. 25 meeting packet, although a graph in the report has different statistics: 2,933 in 2019. The percentage of tickets vs. “demands” is 3.47% this year and 2.66% pre-COVID.
Manousos said much of the uptick is due to parking violations at Calf Pasture Beach. About 18% of the tickets issued were at the beach, the report states. It shows that 575 tickets were issued at the beach, 413 on Wall Street and 302 in the Webster Lot.
It offers many stats:
- 63% of the tickets issued was for expired meter and time limit
- 18% of tickets issued was for beach parking
- 8% of tickets issued was for courtesy warnings.
- 4% of tickets issued was for parking without valid
- 4% of tickets issued was for parking in a no parking zone
- The remaining 3% was for: occupying two spaces, parking in a handicap space, daily parking at South Norwalk railroad station and East Norwalk railroad station, and similar issues.
“Expired meter and Time Limit violations make up 2,747 (63%) of the total tickets issued in Norwalk,” the report states. “Out of the total of 2,747 Expired meter/time limit violation tickets issued, 51.8% of the tickets were issued in SONO area, 37.7% were issued in Uptown area, 1.0% were issued in East Norwalk area and 9.5% were in SONO/Wall corridor area.”
The value of the 352 courtesy cards issued in July was $6,300, if instead they were tickets and the money was collected, the report states.
Norwalk held its first citation hearings in 18 months but only eight of the 30 complainants expected showed up, in spite of an outreach program, Emery said. He’s spoken with the legal department to attempt offering hearings on multiple days in October, and with extended hours, he added.
Travers said the backlog of citations on hold was whittled down to 155 through negotiations before Emery came onboard.
Emery replaced Rita Azrelyant, in a position that was “vacant for some time,” Travers said in an email.
Azrelyant was a consultant, City records show. The assistant director job description was developed late last year, according to Parking Authority meeting minutes.
“As the position and parking-related projects evolved it was determined that it would be best suited to be filled by a full-time position at the City,” Travers explained. “When the position was advertised, it was with the intention that this would be a full-time position rather than a consultant.”
The Parking Authority funds the position through a voluntary contribution, Travers said.
“We had a number of great candidates,” but Emery stood out, Travers told the Authority last month. “We were really looking for someone with some strong customer service skills,” who would engage businesses and residents, understanding “the nuances of the businesses, how to get us to the next level.”
He comes from a “largely technical background” and has worked for Travers before, about 12 years ago, Travers said.
Emery was IPS Group Inc. technical support manager for the Eastern United States. He has about a decade of experience in parking, according to a bio on the IPS website.
“I spent the first 4 years in a large municipality on the east coast developing and implementing Smart Parking solutions for the city,” he states on IPS. “I also have 4 years of experience with IPS as the East Coast Project Engineer. I oversaw the beginning logistics of numerous large scale installations throughout the country, and then continued to be on site until the completion of each installation. I have recently been promoted to Senior Tier 3 technical Specialist with IPS Group with operations covering, but not limited to the Eastern United states.”
Parking Authority Chairman Mike Harden said on Aug. 24 that, “the person who held your position prior, had a certain way of doing things… I don’t want to say we’re in a rut, but we’re in a ‘kind of in a way of doing.’… I would look to you to talk more about how you want to run that and how you want the communication string to be.”
“I think that’s actually, you know, one of my strengths. And one of the things that I’m looking forward to obviously, I’ve got a lot of catching up to do,” Emery replied. “…I think that’s perfect … if we’re not all communicating, and we’re not on the same page, and we’re not articulating properly to each other then, like any other team, we’ll fail.”