Baton Rouge still working to replace vandalized downtown parking meters

More than a month after a man was arrested for stealing nearly 80 coin-operated parking meters from downtown Baton Rouge, the city-parish has yet to replace them.

But Director of Transportation and Drainage Fred Raiford says that will soon change, as his department plans to replace them with 50 or 60 meters from underperforming areas of the city.

“There are meters in some neighborhoods that get very little use,” Raiford says. “So we will pick those up and move them downtown to offset the loss in revenue.”

Raiford can’t say for sure how much parking revenue the city-parish has missed out on since the aging meters were vandalized beginning last fall. But at least $35,000 was stolen between October and late January, when police arrested 36-year-old Randy Deon Thomas and charged him with multiple counts of theft and criminal damage to property. Police say Thomas busted into the downtown parking meters using a sledgehammer and, in some cases, took the entire meter head.

While motorists may have enjoyed the proverbial free ride they’ve gotten since the meters were vandalized, the incident couldn’t come at a worse time for Mayor Sharon Weston Broome’s administration, which is trying to get a handle on the downtown parking situation.

Former Mayor Kip Holden’s administration had embarked on a comprehensive plan to overhaul the entire downtown parking system, which included replacing the outdated coin-operated meters with new, high-tech ones.

But the Broome administration has not moved forward with that plan because it calls for tying a management contract with a third-party consultant to the administration of the meter system as well as to downtown’s parking garages, and administration officials have said that plan is too costly and would lose money for the city-parish.

Though Raiford’s office has prepared procurement documents to put the new meter system out to bid, he says he won’t issue the bid specs until the bigger issues surrounding downtown parking are resolved.

“Do we want to lump it altogether or have a separate vendor for just the parking meters? Those are things we’re still questioning and trying to figure out,” he says.

In the meantime, it’s no longer possible to buy coin-operated meters to replace the ones that were vandalized and stolen, and it wouldn’t make sense to replace them anyway, with so many other issues up in the air.

“So we’ll just move some around from other parts of town,” Raiford says.

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