By the time Chairman Tom Sharpe adjourned Friday’s nearly two-hour Oxford Parking Commission meeting, everyone seemed ready to leave; the courtroom cleared out within minutes.
The two hours of discussion on Nov. 3 included the Commission’s regular monthly update and a presentation about a new parking garage to be built in Oxford.
As the meeting began, Matt Davis, Director of Parking for Oxford, reported that the first month of the city’s fiscal year, which runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 31, was successful.
After the monthly parking report, Rob McConnell, Vice President of Parking Solutions for Carl Walker Engineering, gave a presentation to educate the commissioners about the operations of the future parking garage.
When introducing McConnell, Chairman Sharpe referred to the presentation as their “long agenda item” and it did not disappoint.
McConnell’s presentation, which lasted nearly an hour and a half, featured information about the commission’s options for the payment methods available within the garage, the enforcement of paying to park and the regulation of traffic flow in and around the garage.
The majority of discussion was focused on how the city would make sure people are paying to park. McConnell recommended that the commission strongly consider a license plate recognition system to stay ahead of the times with technological trends.
“On-street meters are rapidly becoming obsolete,” McConnell said. “A lot of municipalities are moving away from meters completely and just putting up signs that say ‘pay-by-cell.’”
The commissioners were not so keen on the idea, mentioning several concerns.
“Meters have been working. We all know it works and everyone here knows how it works,” one commissioner said.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” he added.
Another one of their concerns related to the idea of implementing a license plate recognition system.
During the meeting, McConnell said that these systems are effective because “no two license plates are the same,” but Mike Harris, Oxford Parking Commissioner and Director of Parking and Transportation at the University of Mississippi, quickly corrected him.
“We had one a month ago with the same number, but one was a Mississippi State plate with the ‘M’ on it and the other was an Ole Miss plate with the Lyceum emblem,” Harris said. “Same tag number.”
Although Harris added that he believes Mississippi is the only state that issues repeat tag numbers, this still greatly affects the practicality of a license plate recognition system in the Oxford parking garage.
This is evidenced in the fact that approximately 58 percent of the 1,700 tickets issued in October were to vehicles from Mississippi. If those cars had been parked in a parking garage monitored via a license plate recognition system, it is possible that the system would not have been equipped to process the necessary information.
The commissioners briefly deliberated about the options McConnell presented, but ultimately decided that most of these topics were open to being decided at a later date, leaving almost all of the details up in the air, even after meeting for just shy of two hours.
To aid in their decision making, Commissioner Kevin Frye suggested that they propose to the Board of Aldermen a parking and traffic study to make sure the garage fits in with, and possibly even improves, the flow of downtown traffic.
“It’s not just a parking issue, but that parking is, in part, what creates the traffic problem,” Frye said.
McConnell, who has experience in consulting on studies like the one Frye suggested, agreed with his recommendation to best meet the garage’s goal of easing the parking and traffic difficulties in Oxford.
“I’m convinced that if somebody parachuted in here and saw how the square operated, they could easily say ‘If you would just do these two or three things, the efficiency would improve greatly,’” Frye said. “I just don’t know what those things are.”
The Parking Commission is scheduled to reconvene on Friday, Dec. 1, giving the Board of Aldermen both previously-scheduled November meetings to discuss their parking and traffic study suggestion.