New parking enforcement technology tested in Steamboat’s downtown business district |

New parking enforcement technology tested in Steamboat’s downtown business district

City officials are testing a new license plate reading technology they hope will make enforcing parking rules in downtown Steamboat Springs easier and more efficient.
John F. Russell

— City officials recently took a new parking enforcement technology for a spin through downtown Steamboat Springs.

“It was actually very encouraging,” Public Works Director Chuck Anderson told the Steamboat City Council about his test drive with license plate reading technology that would aim to improve parking enforcement downtown and turn over more spaces for people who want to shop and eat there.

Some Steamboat Springs City Council members have called for better enforcement of parking in the downtown district.

Anderson particularly was impressed by the license plate reader’s ability to quickly scan multiple rows of parked cars in large public parking lots.

Even when cars are parked closely together in places like Yampa Street, the reader has the ability to use an algorithm combined with infrared technology to determine the license plate numbers, Anderson said.

The technology, commonly referred to as LPR, is one of the new purchases the city of Steamboat is considering making to improve the parking situation in the downtown business district. It essentially would be a more high-tech version of chalking tires on vehicles.

But the city isn’t sold on it yet, and the City Council had some questions.

“I’m not 100 percent convinced that this is going to be the technology that is going to be the money most well spent compared to any other method of enforcement,” Police Chief Joel Rae told the council.

Rae started talking to the council after city staff was asked how they would address concerns from residents about how the new technology might infringe on their privacy.

Police departments across the country are using the technology more and more, not only for parking enforcement but also for law enforcement purposes.

The technology can be used to help find stolen vehicles, missing persons, wanted criminals and traffic offenders.

But some residents aren’t on board with the technology.

Steamboat resident Stuart Orzach has expressed privacy concerns about the reader to the City Council here before.

He’s watched a TED talk where a lawyer described how she felt the technology was being abused and how some police departments were using it to track residents.

Rae said the city of Steamboat Springs could set up the system so that data from it is erased daily after tickets are issued.

He also said that other than a plate number being stored electronically during the process, it is no different from if a parking enforcement officer recorded someone’s license plate by hand to issue a parking ticket.

Council member Scott Ford pointed out that the system collects data from vehicles that aren’t violating any laws.

Council members also suggested they would not be interested in having the city use the data from the machine for anything other than parking enforcement purposes.

Rae said that if the city is directed to, it could store data for a certain amount of time to learn more about how parking in certain lots and parts of the city is or isn’t turning over.

In the coming weeks, city staff is expected to report back to council about the LPR and other possible changes to the city’s downtown parking system.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10

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