Virtual parking permits introduced in Milwaukee

| October 28, 2013

Begone, physical parking permits! Starting December 20, virtual permits will rule the nighttime streets in Milwaukee, WI.

Currently, the city doesn’t allow vehicles to park on its streets between 2 and 6 a.m. Monday through Saturday unless they display a night parking permit, which must be featured in the left corner of their rear window. In 2012, the Department of Public Works (DPW) issued 9,200 tickets to motorists who failed to display the permits.

Speaking to the media earlier this year, DPW budget director Shirley Krug said that figure would be lowered when the city purchased cameras that automatically read license plates. The cameras will be installed in jeeps driven by enforcement officials.

Milwaukee river

Milwaukee’s Riverwalk development. By compujeramy.

“The computer in the enforcement jeep will beep if someone’s vehicle does not have a valid night parking permit or if the vehicle was reported stolen or if someone is a scofflaw or if someone is parked in excess of the posted time limits,” said Sandy Rusch Walton, a spokesperson for the DPW. “The officer will then issue the parking citation after manually checking the license plate.”

Ed Fleury, a former DPW enforcement official, claims that the city already owned technology that allowed inspectors to know which vehicles had valid permits: All enforcers carried handheld AutoCITE computers that linked license plates to permits.

“We think it serves other purposes,” Krug said about the new technology, which cost taxpayers $720,000.

But in a briefing on the new system, aldermen raised other concerns. “We don’t want people who aren’t cops having access to personal data based on license plates,” said Alderman Mike Murphy.

Rusch Walton explained that all data captured by each parking enforcer would be erased at the end of the shift and that only management would have access to the information when it ends up on the city server, where it will reside for seven years. The Milwaukee Police Department (MPD) will be able to request data, however.

That rankled Chris Ahmuty, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, who noted that there appeared to be no firewall between the DPW and MPD. He also wondered whether the data would be compared against other databases and whether it’d be subject to open records requests. Perhaps the police should be required to obtain warrants for parking data, Ahmuty suggested.

Milwaukee blizzard

In a city that gets this much snow, parking is clearly important. From purpleslog.

Rusch Walton reminded those at the briefing of the city’s official policy not to sell such data to private businesses.

Despite concerns about privacy issues, the new system will be implemented on December 20. Applicants, who can buy their permits online or off- on and after that date, will receive a confirmation number after their purchase, but they won’t be getting physical parking permits. Enforcement officials will use drivers’ license plates to determine whether or not the motorist has a valid permit.

Those who fail to purchase a permit will continue to be subject to a $20 citation.

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Category: Enforcement, Municipal, Parking management

About the Author ()

Cielo Lutino is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn, NY. She has written for such publications as the L Magazine and Portland Monthly, and her literary nonfiction has appeared in journals such as the Los Angeles Review and Cold Mountain Review.

Comments (2)

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  1. Michael Grant says:

    How is this going to work in winter when plates are often covered in snow? Can we expect parking checkers to wipe plates clean so they can be checked?

  2. Cielo Lutino says:

    Good question, Michael! According to a response via phone inquiry last week, enforcement officials from Milwaukee’s DPW would simply step out, wipe the snow from the license plate, and read it that way.