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Firm offers to extend test run of new meters Glitches prevented accurate evaluation

Photo Violation Technologies Corp. has offered to extend a test run of 96 digital parking meters after installation problems prevented the system from fully running during the city's peak tourist season.

Fred Mitschele, chief executive of Photo Violation Technologies, told the City Council on Monday that his company will continue to operate the trial through next summer to get an accurate picture of how much revenue the meters could generate.

"When you do a rollout like that in any city where you've initiated paid parking, there's going to be a lot of quirks," Mitschele said.

Since the meters started running in July, they have brought in $23,084 in cash, City Controller Maria Brown said. Brown said she received an unaudited report Monday afternoon that showed the meters took in an additional $14,000 through credit card charges.

Photo Violation installed the meters at no cost to the city earlier this summer for a six-month trial run, but Council members have expressed concern about the delays.

The Council wants an analysis of how much the meters will cost the city to run.

"In the long run, it's going to come down to these Council members to decide whether these meters are coming or going," Councilman Christopher Robins said.

The meters, which are equipped with cameras to record license plate numbers of parking violators, offer several unique features, including a "no-fine" choice that allows users to automatically add time through credit cards.

The meters are also capable of notifying parkers through cell phone text messages that a meter needs more money, but that feature has not been activated on the machines in Niagara Falls.

Photo Violation, a start-up company located in Vancouver, British Columbia, installed the meters in Niagara Falls to showcase its system.

Mitschele said the company has invested more than $1 million to get the meters in Niagara Falls up and running.

City officials said earlier this summer that problems pouring concrete to install the meters, connecting them to electricity and launching the wireless network on which they run delayed the starting period of the trial until July -- well into the city's tourism season.

There have been additional kinks since then.

The company has had to replace batteries in 15 of the meters because they have not been properly connected to electrical sources by the utility company, Mitschele said.

The city has not processed any violations recorded by the meters, and street construction blocked some metered parking spaces this summer.

"If you did a normal trial where there's no interruptions, it would have been different," Mitschele said.

Mayor Vince Anello said the city would begin issuing tickets for those violations once city officials are satisfied that the system is fully running.

Robins also expressed concern about a drop in revenue the city has seen this year from parking tickets. Anello attributed the bulk of the decreased revenue to factors unrelated to the meters.

The meters are located primarily on Third and First streets and Rainbow Boulevard; free wireless Internet access is also available in that neighborhood.

Brown, the controller, said the city has spent $3,312 so far this year on temporary employees who service the meters. She has not calculated the indirect costs, like security.

If the city chooses to keep the meters, Photo Violation Technologies will charge a discounted price of $1,000 for each meter it has installed, Mitschele said. The full cost of each new meter is $6,000, he said.

Also Monday, the City Council approved three retroactive union contracts for clerical workers, uniformed firefighters and trades workers that give employees 6 percent raises during a four-year period. The contracts replace collective bargaining agreements that expired in 2003 and 2004.

e-mail: djewell@buffnews.com

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