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Marketer of high-tech meters to lobby D.C. on parking kiosks

- The Washington Times - Friday, July 6, 2007

A Milwaukee-based company that markets high-tech parking meter programs where motorists can pay by credit card or cell phone has expressed interest in selling its services to the District.

Duncan Solutions has filed paperwork with the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance to lobby D.C. officials on "meters, ticketing and processing collection."

The company last year announced plans to increase parking revenues for clients by increasing profitability of credit- and debit-card transactions on parking kiosks, or multi-space parking meters.

Among the lobbyists Duncan Solutions has enlisted is former Clinton White House official Ira Sockowitz, who did consulting work for the District in 2004 for Mayor Anthony A. Williams.

However, Mr. Sockowitz said he has no knowledge of Duncan's plans in the District. He said he no longer works for the company.

"I did one meeting for them; it was short-lived," said Mr. Sockowitz, who earned $1,400 from the company, according to disclosure reports.

Duncan officials did not return phone calls on the company's plans in the District.

One of Duncan's top selling points is boosting parking revenue for clients, according to the company's Web site, www.duncansolutions.com. It says multi-space meters are more cost-efficient.

Doug Towner, senior parking enforcement officer for Las Vegas, is quoted in company literature as saying the new technology has resulted in average credit-card transactions of $2.22, compared with the average coin transaction of 74 cents.

Mr. Towner said, "People paying the meter with coins tend to pay the minimum or whatever coins they may have readily available. But with credit cards, people tend to put in a lot more, generally the maximum."

D.C. officials haven't announced any plans to change the city's parking meter program, but there is talk of doing so.

Council member Tommy Wells, Ward 6 Democrat, said during a recent council hearing that reducing the number of parking meters and replacing them with kiosks could make it difficult for bicyclists to find parking. Bicyclists often lock their bikes on parking meter poles.

"I believe there's a possible movement towards the reduction of parking meters, that we have a different type of parking meter," Mr. Wells said.

Duncan Solutions has enlisted lobbyists in other jurisdictions as it seeks to expand its business. The company spent more than $40,000 to lobby the Los Angeles mayor, City Council and Transportation Department, according to lobbying activities reports.

For years, the District's parking enforcement program has been contracted out to Texas-based Affiliated Computer Services. Under ACS, the District has generated tens of millions of dollars in parking revenues.

ACS also has relied on lobbyists to help it influence city politicians, paying prominent lobbyists Kerry Pearson and Max Brown hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent years.

Several other cities across the country — including Las Vegas, Portland, Ore., and Seattle — have started converting their parking meters to kiosks.

Gregg Hirakawa, spokesman for the Seattle Department of Transportation, said Seattle made the move in 2004 mostly to improve convenience.

"We had a joke around here that if you wanted to park you had to have a roll of quarters in your pocket," he said.