Despite obstacles, Dyster forges ahead with controversial parking meter plan



Mayor Paul Dyster finally gets his way: He will lard the city with parking meters which in the end will certainly make some private contractors money, cost residents plenty, will be enforced vigorously and will drive customers away from the city businesses into neighboring communities where the parking is free.

What can the people of Niagara Falls do to ensure that the nightmarish implementation of a citywide parking plan by Mayor Paul Dyster’s handpicked contractor, Desman Associates, isn’t simply a repeat of what recently happened when the company did the same thing in Chicago?

The Niagara Falls City Council passed Dyster’s parking plan on Monday after twice rejecting nearly identical proposals.

Those wanting to park their cars on Chicago streets found the rates had gone up as much as fourfold once the plan was implemented. 

Meters jammed and overflowed when they couldn’t hold enough change for the new prices. In other areas, new electronic meters had been installed, but many of them didn’t give receipts or failed to work entirely. And free parking on Sundays was a thing of the past.

The meter plan sparked mass outrage in the Windy City. There were mass protests and attempts to organize a boycott. But the city had leased its 36,000 meters to a private Morgan Stanley-led consortium in exchange for $1.2 billion in up-front revenue. The length of the lease was 75 years.

And if the meter situation seemed like a bad deal for Chicago’s parkers, it soon became clear that it was an even worse one for the city’s taxpayers.

An inspector general’s report found that the deal was worth almost $1 billion more than the city had gotten for it. Not only would the city never have a chance to recoup that money or reap new meter revenue for three-quarters of a century, clauses buried in the contract required it to reimburse the company for lost meter revenue.

The city was billed for allowing construction of new parking garages, for handing out disabled parking placards, for closing the streets for festivals. The current bill stands at $61 million.

And if all that wasn’t bad enough, some of those involved in the deal are now the target of a federal bribery investigation. The Desman parking plan in Chicago has been an utter disaster. Bad for those who have to use it, awful for the taxpayers and, in all likelihood, corrupt.

In its’ wake, it’s hard not to wonder what it was about the company that attracted Dyster? The Niagara Falls mayor, who enthusiastically backed Mayor Irene Elia’s parking program as a member of the City Council in the early years of the new century, has apparently swallowed completely Desman’s incredibly optimistic projection of $1 million in new revenue annually.

Desman believes the city should add a parking manager position to its payroll. That individual would work to protect the city’s investment in the system by working with the private operator to ensure meters are operational, revenues are being collected appropriately and fines are being levied against those who fail to obey parking rules downtown.


Enforcement is the key to any parking plan. Expect plenty of tickets to be given out and unless we miss our guess plenty of these will go to locals.

Desman has also recommended the creation of a parking committee consisting of the four top city department heads, including the city controller, police chief, director of public works and city solicitor. The committee would work with the parking manager to ensure the system is being properly monitored and operating in the city’s best interest. 

Desman has estimated annual expense for the program at about $100,000, suggesting that once fully installed the meters could return a little more than $176,000 in revenue for a full year, not including funds collected through parking violations.

The Niagara Falls City Council at first rejected a Dyster request to approve a bid from Ber-National Automation Inc. for $355,190 to install roughly 40 pay stations governing about 270 parking spaces in the city’s hotel and tourism district. The next valid bid was near $450,000, according to the submission to city council.

Residents clapped and cheered loudly when the item was defeated.

Council members, along with a number of residents who spoke out against it, faulted Mayor Paul A. Dyster and his administration for not bringing more details to the public about how a parking plan would be implemented and staffed.

Council Chairman Andrew Touma concurred, saying, “It’s unfortunate that we don’t have the costs in hand. That should have been taken care of so there were no questions.”

Dyster told the Council they would “be leaving money on the table” by not having a parking system in place and said the first step was to purchase the equipment. When he was pressed, he said the total cost for staffing would be $87,360, but said the issues of staffing and maintenance were “independent of the technology.”

And after all that, the Council turned around and passed a nearly identical proposal at its next meeting.

The blueprint the city is working off of, a 2011 Desman Associates planning study that has already cost taxpayers more than $112,000, would have Ber-National install the meters in a four side area with a northern border running west from Niagara Street and Fourth Street to Niagara Street and Rainbow Boulevard.

Stations would be placed south from that intersection following the bend in Rainbow Boulevard and ending at Fourth Street. Third Street will serve as an eastern border for the initial phase. Second and third phases are expected which may encompass more of downtown and other heavily traversed streets including possibly Pine Ave.

Critics have said that while meters may make the city or the private company Dyster may sell the parking rights to some money in the summer, it will almost certainly drive whatever business there is away in the wintertime.

Certainly given the choice to pay to park in Niagara Falls or park free everywhere else will encourage winter customers to head to where there is hassle free parking.

In Chicago, the FBI is investigating whether an executive at the firm hired to manage the privatized parking meters was paid $90,000 in bribes to steer a contract to install and maintain the controversial meters across the city.

But in Mayor Paul Dyster’s Niagara Falls, it’s damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. Will his parking meter plan be a reprise of his recycling scheme, which he said would be a moneymaker but ended up costing taxpayers millions instead?

It remains to be seen. But one thing is certain, Desman Associates’ premier project, the Chicago parking meter plan, was a municipal disaster that ended political careers and may lead to even more indictments.

In light of this, Dyster’s insistence on involving them with the city’s plan is puzzling, to say the least.

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