Dublin City Council’s contract with a private company to clamp cars that break parking rules is due to end next year, and some councillors would like to see changes the next time around.

At the moment, the council has a contract with Dublin Street Parking Services (DSPS) to clamp cars when drivers don’t pay for street parking, or when they park where they shouldn’t.

The council could extend the contract by a year or two, a council spokesperson said. Or they could tender anew with new terms and let DSPS, or any other company that wants, bid for it.

That’s likely to be a long process. It was August 2018 when the council posted an invitation to tender for the current parking-enforcement contract. It awarded the contract in August 2019.

“Time is kind of of the essence here,” said Feljin Jose, who’s running for a seat on the council for the Green Party in Cabra-Glasnevin. “I think if Dublin City Council wants to change the contract or put out a new contract or take it back, they have to act now.”

Green Party councillors Janet Horner, Carolyn Moore, Caroline Conroy and Michael Pidgeon have submitted a motion to the council’s transport committee proposing major changes to parking enforcement in the city.

Fine Gael Councillor Paddy McCartan said Monday that he thought the current system was working pretty well, but “there’s a few areas where it could be improved”.

In response to queries about whether it would seek to refocus the next contract, a council spokesperson said: “All areas of enforcement will be considered when the tender is due for renewal.”

The current contract

The council declined to release the current parking-enforcement contract, even a redacted version showing just the priorities set by the council.

“The contractor, Dublin Street Parking Services, are required to focus on all aspects of illegal parking around the city,” a council spokesperson said, in response to the request.

“They are, however asked to prioritise offences which cause disruption to the movement of people, cyclists, buses, and cars,” the spokesperson said.

Although the council wouldn’t release the contract itself, its 2018 invitation to tender for that contract sets out in some detail what it wanted from prospective operators.

The council wanted to appoint a contractor to clamp, relocate and remove vehicles parked illegally on the city’s streets, it says.

The contract would be for five years, “with a possible extension of a further two years (on a year by year basis)”.

The objectives were to maintain “a high level of compliance” with parking restrictions, to provide “the very highest level of customer care and service”, and to minimise the net cost to the council of providing the service.

The contractor would have to provide parking-enforcement services across: “Core Business Area – City Centre Outer”, “Business Areas – Suburban Villages/Commercial locations”, “Residential Areas/Pay and Display areas”, “Bus corridors/Clearways/cycle lanes and Major Arterial Routes”.

“The Contractor must provide a service across all of these areas, but with differing priorities and at different times and days”, the tender document says.

Vehicles can be clamped, with drivers having to pay fines to get the clamp removed. They can also be moved out of the way to a neighbouring street and left clamped. Or they can be moved off the streets entirely, to the pound.

“The Council has a set of rules and procedures concerning when, on which occasions, and how enforcement should be carried out,” the tender document says. “These rules and procedures are confidential to the Council, and must be treated accordingly.”

“The Council envisages that the annual number of clamps will be in the region of 65,000,” the tender document says.

The council got three bids, and decided to award the contract – worth close to €36,700,000 – to Tazbell Services Group DAC, parent company of DSPS, according to an August 2019 notice.

Rebalancing

Both Jose, the Green Party candidate, and Horner, the Green Party councillor, talked about a need to shift the focus of parking enforcement a bit more away from “revenue protection” and towards keeping footpaths and cycleways and bus lanes clear.

Clamping people who don’t pay the council to park in on-street spots when they should protects council parking-fee revenue. In the 2018 tender document, the council says the winning contractor will have to ensure the number of vehicles clamped for “pay and display offences does not exceed 55% of the total number”.

However, council and national government policies are seeking to encourage people to drive less, and take public transport, walk and cycle more – and the city’s parking-enforcement system should do more to support that goal, said Jose.

“I think there has to be a renewed focus towards enforcing illegal parking that blocks footpaths, parking that blocks cycle lanes, parking that blocks bus lanes,” he said. “As opposed to revenue protection.”

Horner said she wants to see illegal parking in the city eliminated. Designing streets and footpaths to eliminate opportunities for parking illegally, running publicity campaigns to convince them not to do it, and taking enforcement actions against anyone who does it anyway, are all tools to do that, she said.

“We have a problem in the city that there is so much illegal parking and flouting of the rules,” Horner said. “It’s become very, like, normalized, I think, for people to park up on footpaths, park in cycle lanes.”

That means there’s an idea that streets are not for people with disabilities or people pushing prams, Horner says.

“It’s not even for the simple act of, like – holding hands while walking down the pavement is not something you can realistically expect to do in Dublin,” Horner said. “If somebody decides to park their car in the footpath you are expected to accommodate that.”

“So it’s just a range of different livability issues, which I think are really impacted by normalizing illegal parking as has happened in the last while,” Horner said.

The contract expiring next year presents an opportunity, Horner said. “It seems like a good opportunity to examine how we can strengthen it.”

McCartan, the Fine Gael councillor, said he’d like to see tougher enforcement against repeat offenders – higher fines for them maybe. And he’d also like to see more enforcement against people who park on footpaths and in bus lanes.

“There should be a priority to remove those vehicles as quickly as possible,” he said.

Likewise, Jason Cullen, a spokesperson for the Dublin Commuter Coalition, said that tendering for a new contract would be “a great opportunity to make valuable changes to how we keep our footpaths and roads clear of illegal parking”.

“This would ensure pedestrians are not forced out onto busy roads and public transport is not unnecessarily blocked by the selfishness of a few vehicle drivers,” he said.

Bring in the robots?

The Dublin Commuter Coalition would like to see the introduction of automated enforcement of parking rules using cameras, Cullen said.

“The current system of parking illegally on a footpath, bus / cycle lane or in a loading bay while running into the shops encourages illegal behaviour which would be solved quite quickly by automatic camera enforcement,” he said.

Handheld devices used in parking enforcement in the city have automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) capability for use in the clamping procedures.

But deliberations on rolling out camera enforcement for road traffic violations more broadly have dragged on for years.

At the moment, there’s a National Transport Authority-led government task force that is supposed “to assess and make recommendations in relation to the further extension of camera-based enforcement”.

Its chair said in May that the working group would report back by the end of this year.

Give the council back control?

Even beyond these issues of shifting the focus of enforcement, or of automating some or all of it, the motion put in by Horner and her Green Party colleagues on Dublin City Council to the transport committee calls for the council to take back direct control of parking enforcement, instead of contracting it out at all.

Horner said Monday that “With a privatized enforcement system, there is a sort of like, there’s a bottom line element always to that rather than kind of promoting public good”.

The Green Party motion also says that, once the council takes over parking enforcement, “The new mandate for parking enforcement officers should emphasise enforcement where parking is dangerous or illegal or causing significant accessibility obstacle or damage to public infrastructure.”

“It should also be explored,” the motion says, “to see whether litter, dumping and dog warden powers can be combined with those of parking enforcement for a combined benefit for all aspects of the public realm and the community.”

McCartan, the Fine Gael councillor, says he wouldn’t support the council taking over parking enforcement in the city.

When the council ran bin collection, that service was costing it millions more a year than it was bringing in, McCartan said. “Taking it back doesn’t make sense,” he said, though there is an effort by some councillors to do so.

Likewise, taking control of parking enforcement doesn’t make sense either, McCartan says.

However, Jose, the Green Party candidate, says that whether or not parking enforcement brings in more than it costs to run shouldn’t be the deciding factor for whether the council does it or not.

“It’s a public service. It’s not a business. The council is not a business,” Jose says.

Instead of the council taking over parking enforcement, McCartan, the Fine Gael councillor, says the council should fine-tune the current system.

“When there’s something running smoothly, there is a reluctance to intervene,” McCartan says.

However, he does hope the council can negotiate a better deal for itself, financially, on the next contract than what it is getting under the current contract.

“We should be looking to make sure Dublin City Council gets the best deal possible” on the next contract. “I would hope there would be a more competitive tender than the last one.”

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1 Comment

  1. Strange that the councillors who want to change things are only concerned with one group.
    Also strange that the councillors do not support #MakeWayDay ever.
    It seems once again, that a cohort of politicians decide that the Street Hierarchy that their own party use as policy is to be ignored.
    We keep hearing the same thing stuff out of them and they ignore the biggest minority community in the country.

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