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Travis County to use pilot program to test employee parking plan

Tuesday, August 17, 2010 by Michelle Jimenez

Travis County is on track to implement a pilot program for parking that county commissioners hope will provide some relief to the 650 employees waiting for a space.


The court last week approved moving ahead with the plan, with the understanding that a number of details need to be ironed out. A reluctant Commissioner Ron Davis gave his okay despite concerns about inadequate employee feedback.


In a separate vote, the court approved several parking assumptions to be used in developing long-range plans for the county’s downtown campus. The scenarios that Broaddus Planning, the firm hired to oversee the downtown master-planning process, devise will assume: zoned parking; a 5 percent reduction in parking demand; maximum use of existing parking resources to offset the need for a new garage; and the construction of parking garages, if needed, through partnerships.


The pilot would test the zoned parking system, like those used in other urban Texas counties, that gives employees a permit to park within a certain area. The results would help the court decide whether to switch to such a system from the current practice of assigning individual spaces to downtown employees.


“We have been talking about this for years,” County Judge Sam Biscoe said. “So this would be a ‘Let’s move ahead.’ Now, there are questions that still need to be answered.”


One of those questions is how reorganizing the long waiting list, so that employees are in order by their hire date, would affect those in line. Currently, employees are not automatically added to the waiting list upon their hire but must take action to get their name on it. Sydnia Crosbie, chair of the employee Parking Committee, asked the court to change the policy before the pilot program is implemented.


“It’s caused a lot of problems from an employee standpoint,” Crosbie told the court on Aug. 10. “We constantly get complaints that people think they’re on the waiting list, and they’re not.”


County employees wait up to seven years for a parking space to call their own. The county’s legal counsel told the court that reordering the list by hire date would affect employees. For instance, employee No. 301 on the waiting list would be bumped up to No. 2. The court directed staff to find out the exact number of employees who would be affected if the list were reorganized by hire date — one of at least a few loose ends that need to be tied up before the court takes an official vote on the pilot program.


“If you’re talking about a handful of people, it may not matter a whole lot,” Biscoe said. “If you’re talking about half the list, it’s a big deal.”


The proposed pilot, which could be implemented in October, would take place at the parking garage that the county acquired in June with the purchase of a 15-story building at 700 Lavaca St. That garage has available spaces, is already set up for zoned parking and is run by a management company.


Crosbie told the court that up to 200 employees on the waiting list could be given permits under the pilot study. However, Biscoe said the spaces would be temporary because the county is expected to move its administration offices to the Lavaca building, which means employees in the pilot who are not housed at the new building would be relocated to other parking areas.       


Though the court approved moving forward with pilot planning by a unanimous vote – Commissioner Margaret Gómez, who is recovering from heart surgery in April, was absent – it came only after Davis repeatedly voiced concerns about insufficient employee input. The last employee survey about parking, in general, was in 2007. Crosbie agreed to conduct another survey, via e-mail.


Davis wanted the court to hold off on any action regarding the pilot for a couple of weeks, until the survey results were back.


Commissioner Karen Huber urged the court to move ahead, saying employees likely wouldn’t have an opinion about the pilot because they didn’t know enough about it.


“We haven’t tried it, so how can there be an opinion on it?” she said, adding that such a project will likely have critics. “I just really feel strongly that we need to have a pilot to ascertain if it’s even possible.”


Biscoe said he suspected the survey results would resemble those the county received last time: Employees who have an assigned space won’t want to switch to zoned parking and those who don’t will be more receptive.


“I bet my parking space that there won’t be any new information to come back,” Biscoe said later.


The county judge should know next week, when the court expects to receive the employee survey results and other related information, whether he gets to keep his parking space.

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