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Cameras may soon aid in parking enforcement

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Evanston aldermen this week voiced support for staff plans to equip parking enforcement officers with cameras and computer equipment that can read license plates to tell who's overstayed their welcome in a parking space.

Parking System Manager Rickey Voss says the systems are extensively used by communities across the country, including Chicago, Downers Grove and Oak Park.

Voss said one target of the system would be the 6,000 or so cars in town that are "boot-eligible" because their owners have too many unpaid parking tickets.

He said in a test the camera system spotted five boot-eligible vehicles in 40 minutes. "It would take over eight hours to do that manually now," Voss added.

Top: The dual eyes of infrared cameras from one vendor, ELSAG North America, whose equipment the city is considering. Above: A camera-equipped police car cruising a parking lot.

Voss said that plans are to start by equipping two parking enforcement vehicles with the camera systems at a cost of about $100,000.

He said that, assuming aldermen approve, he hopes to have the cameras in operation by next March and that he believes the system will pay for itself within a year.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, she supports the idea of purchasing the equipment "100 percent," although she added that she believes the city's biggest problem is with collection of the fines on parking tickets it already issues.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said that plans to hire a collection agency to go after unpaid fines are already in the proposed budget for next year.

An ELSAG diagram showing how the cameras connect to an on-board computer system.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, asked about how much the city gets when it boots a car.

Voss responded that the city charges a $125 boot fee, of which the tow company that boots the car gets $75. But the owner of the booted car also has to pay for all of the outstanding parking tickets before the boot is removed, and the city keeps all the revenue from the tickets.

Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, said the technology does seem intrusive, but it means the city would get money that its already owed but can't capture now.

Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, asked whether the new technology might make it possible to let residents buy a pass that would let them park at meters without having to feed them, and Voss said that should be possible eventually.

Voss also suggested that in the future the city could equip its street sweeping machines with the cameras, which could elminate a lot of claims that "the sweeper had already been by" when someone parked in a restricted zone on a street cleaning day.

The city has been considering acquiring such technology since the spring of 2010, and officials also see it as a way to eliminate the need to physically distribute city parking and registration stickers in future years.

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