New signs have been posted in downtown lots where three-hour limits on parking will be enforced after a digital monitoring system has been installed.

By Gretchen Webster

WESTPORT — A digital system to keep track of parking limits downtown will be installed this spring.

The new tracking system, approved Wednesday by the Board of Selectwomen, is part of efforts to end confusion caused by different time limits and inconsistent messaging posted at parking lots and streets downtown.

New signs to alert drivers to three-hour parking limits have already been installed in some downtown parking lots, including the Baldwin lot, but old two-hour signs remain covered in the Parker Harding lot.

It will take a few months before equipment for the new software-based tracking system arrives and traffic officers are trained, allowing fines to be collected from parking scofflaws, Police Chief Foti Koskinas told the selectwomen Wednesday. 

The chief was asking the board to approve a $278,506 five-year agreement with Cardinal Tracking of Texas for “TickeTrak” software for parking enforcement and billing. With the new software, a police vehicle would be outfitted with a scanning device to record license plates of parked cars. Three hours later, the enforcement vehicle will check the area for any cars that overstayed the three-hour limit.

Parking fines will be collected in three ways: online, by check mailed to the Police Department or paying in person at the department, the chief said.

Over the years, Koskinas said, local parking enforcement has been spotty and time limits confusing. “We have different color signs, different color lines [designating parking space limits] … sporadic enforcement,” he said.

Limits on parking were lifted during the COVID-19 pandemic to help boost business for downtown merchants, but new, three-hour limits were approved last summer — pending installation of new signs and other details. The longer parking limits were approved after merchants complained that the initial idea of re-imposing two-hour limits would not allow adequate time for many customers.

All-day parking will remain for spots outside the designated three-hour zones.

“The only way to do this fairly is to be on time checking cars, to be consistent,” the chief said. “It’s the only way to be fair to our shoppers and our merchants.”

The “TickeTrak” system is also more cost effective and more user friendly, he added, than the erratic enforcement methods used previously.

The new equipment could be ordered immediately after the selectwomen’s approval, but there will be a 60-day training period before limits are enforced with the new technology, the chief said. Although the three-hour limit was approved in August, it would be unfair and confusing to drivers to enforce the new rules the old way for a month or two and then launch a different system, he said.

Selectwoman Candice Savin asked if vehicles scanning license plates would be manned or self-driving. Koskinas said although using automated enforcement vehicles is an interesting concept, traffic officers will be driving Westport’s scanning vehicles.

Michael Perry, a Representative Town Meeting member from District 2, asked if the scanning procedure would identify and ticket other kinds of parking violations, such as cars parked the wrong way or in a restricted spot.

In addition to time-limit violations, the chief said, tickets will be issued for vehicles parked illegally in spaces reserved under American with Disabilities Act guidelines, as well as for parking in loading zones, a vehicle occupying two spaces or any other illegal criteria.

The selectwomen unanimously approved the contract with Cardinal Tracking, subject to approval of the town attorney.

Freelance writer Gretchen Webster, a Fairfield County journalist for many years, was editor of the Fairfield Minuteman and has taught journalism at New York and Southern Connecticut State universities.