The standard fee for a parking ticket in Chattanooga is $11.
But for drivers paying a citation online, the fine may appear much higher.
That's because Republic Parking, the private company charged with enforcing payment for the city's public lots and parking spaces, also oversees a number of private lots in the city. And if drivers have outstanding citations in those private, for-profit lots, the fees owed also appear in their online charges, right alongside tickets marked for CARTA.
The presentation of the fines online may lead drivers to think they owe more to the Chattanooga Parking Authority—the division of CARTA that oversees parking and awarded the parking enforcement contract to Republic in 2012—than they actually do.
Other than a simple "CH" at the beginning of ticket numbers designated for the city, there is no distinguishing between a ticket owed to the parking authority or owed to Republic. All boxes next to any fines are checked when a user logs on to pay a ticket, suggesting that a driver should pay all existing fees in order to have a record cleared.
Tom Dugan, the former executive director of CARTA who now is working as assistant executive director as he transitions into retirement, said he was unaware of the way Republic tickets were being paired alongside tickets owed to the parking authority.
"I'll be honest, my first reaction to it is while I think the normal person would be able to check or uncheck a ticket, I'm not sure if I'm supportive of the public and private being mixed that way," Dugan said in a phone interview. "I'm going to look into this further."
Dugan said that since parking enforcement duties were assigned to Republic, approximately 70 percent of fines owed to the city had been paid online. The parking authority's contract with the company allows for use of Republic's online ticket-pay system, which applies to private parking lots in Chattanooga and across the nation.
Britton Stansell, general manager of Republic's Chattanooga operations, said the locally based company was simply trying to do its job in a way that "makes sense."
"Anybody who Republic works for—the private lots that we manage or the city streets—anyone we are an agent for, it's our job to collect those fees when people deliberately use services and do not pay for them," Stansell said. "We are trying to make people aware who have outstanding citations that they do have those. If we aren't making them aware of that, I don't feel that we're doing our job. We're not trying to hurt or penalize anyone; we're just working on behalf of the people who have hired us."
Since being contracted to handle enforcement for the parking authority, the number of parking tickets has more than doubled. According to a recent Chattanooga Times Free Press report, the arrangement between Republic and the parking authority has resulted in $438,774 in revenue during the first six months of management—more than the total amount of revenue collected by the city from parking during the previous fiscal year.
To enhance the crackdown on parking, Republic, which employs approximately 100 people in Chattanooga, has assigned parking "ambassadors" to foot patrols of city streets, checking parking times on vehicles and writing citations if necessary.
Meter fees and fines are determined by the parking authority, and Republic bills the authority for the cost of enforcement. In addition, CARTA pays Republic an annualized fee of $25,000 for the service but offers no incentive to the company for tickets issued.