New Canaanites may want to pay closer attention to the parking meter if the town moves forward with a proposed technology purchase for the Parking Department.
The Parking Commission unanimously recommended the purchase of a license plate reader for parking enforcement purposes. The reader, a set of cameras that would be affixed to the parking department's vehicle, would alert the parking authority to cars in a spot for more than the allowed time, among other functions.
"This would enormously reduce the time of our patrol people and eliminate the need for any permit documentation like a sticker or a tag," Parking Commission Chairman Keith Richey said.
With the license plate readers, parking officials could, for instance, ride down Elm Street and record all the marker plates, Richey said. Two hours later, they could return to Elm Street, which offers 90-minute parking, and the machine would sound an alarm for any vehicle that has exceeded the time limit.
The reader could also be equipped with a database of the license plate numbers of all the cars with a permit for the commuter lots. The parking officials could drive through a commuter lot, such as the one by the train station, and cars not in the database would generate an alarm from the LPR, then could be ticketed.
A top problem for the Parking Commission has been that many of the spaces on Elm Street are taken by downtown employees, rather than by shoppers and diners.
"Employees will park on Elm Street and just move their car throughout the day because it's convenient and free," Tucker Murphy, the executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, said. "The Parking Commission has tried to get a handle on these guys for a while."
LPRs have been an object of some disagreement in the past; a request by the Police Department for one has been refused twice during the budget-setting process. The reason for that has been because the readers save all the information, such as the time and location of every car, into large databases. The fear is that the databases could essentially provide a log of where people are and when, which sounds too much like warrantless surveillance for some people.
"I started out opposed to it because I thought it was same type of reader that gave you a report on any violations the plate could've had," Rick Franco, a member of the Parking Commission, said. "I'm opposed to that, I think it would be too invasive. When I found out that wouldn't be the case, I supported it. It will allow for a more efficient processing of lots and roads."
The license plate reader would not be enabled to do any of the processes the police would use it for, which include finding people whose licenses have been suspended or whose registration is out of date.
The issue of keeping all that information could still pose a problem, according to Murphy, who is also a member of the Town Council.
"It's all about the retention of the data," which would count as a public document and fall under the Freedom of Information Act, she said. "That's where we got hung up in the Town Council. People would still be able to say, `Tucker Murphy's car was on Elm Street six times this week.'"
Richey said the data should be deleted after a few months, the time it takes for someone to get a ticket, appeal it, and have a decision on the appeal made.
Parking Bureau Supervisor Karen Miller did not return multiple calls and messages for comment.
Parking around town
The Parking Commission also recommended making the parking lot across from the post office to a new, metered one.
Many of the spaces now are for 15-minute parking only, for people running in and out of the post office. Now that the post office has announced it will leave by January, the Parking Commission determined the spaces could be changed to public parking.
"That is now going to become the most interesting lot in town," Franco said. "Is there a parking lot that's more convenient?"
Though many New Canaanites have complained that the parking meters at other municipal lots throughout town can be difficult to use, Richey said those most likely would be the meters the town chooses.
"People in the Parking Department are looking at other alternative machines but the fact is that the machines we have are considered to be the best machines out there," Richey said, adding that the complaints have died down and deducing that there may just have been a learning curve in getting used to the new ones.
firstname.lastname@example.org; 203-330-6582; @Woods_NCNews