City's parking meter contract goes to spinoff of troubled firm

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The company awarded a $7 million contract for new parking meters in Pittsburgh was created in December after its predecessor was tied to a federal corruption investigation in Portland, Ore.

The Pittsburgh Parking Authority on Thursday voted to award the contract to Cale Parking Systems USA, the Florida-based company under scrutiny in Portland. However, David Onorato, authority executive director, said Monday the contract actually will be awarded to Cale America.

Cale Parking Systems USA was an independently owned distributor of metering devices manufactured by Cale Access of Stockholm, Sweden, said Edward Olender, president of Cale America. Because of the scrutiny that befell Cale Parking Systems USA, Mr. Olender said, Cale Access in December purchased that company's assets and created Cale America to take over distribution and honor existing contracts.

"We were actually going to try to contact our PR firm to make sure that was clear," said Mr. Olender, previously head of the Swedish's company's operations in Canada.

Some Cale Parking Systems USA employees now are working for Cale America, he said.

In November, federal prosecutors charged Ellis McCoy with bribery in connection with his parking meter management role at Portland Bureau of Transportation. Mr. McCoy allegedly accepted $124,000 in bribes, plus gifts and trips of undetermined value, over a seven-year period.

The Oregonian newspaper reported that the investigation involved Cale Parking Systems USA of Tampa, Fla. The newspaper said federal agents last fall served search warrants simultaneously at Mr. McCoy's home and that of George Levey, president and CEO of Cale Parking Systems USA.

Mr. Levey's attorney, David Zornow, said his client has not been charged. He confirmed that Cale America purchased the assets of Mr. Levey's company and said his client would have no part in the new Pittsburgh contract.

Mr. Onorato said he was aware of the corruption probe and does not believe that it will have any bearing on Pittsburgh's contract with Cale America. To be safe, he said, he'll raise the issue with Cale America representatives during a meeting to finalize details of meter installation.

"We're comfortable as for now, and we'll continue to do our due diligence," Mr. Onorato said.

On Thursday, the authority board voted to purchase 560 multi-space metering devices for $7 million, a figure that includes seven years of maintenance and other services. Board documents and a news release identified the vendor as Cale Parking Systems USA. On Monday, Mr. Onorato said that was an oversight and that the contract will be with Cale America.

When the authority last fall invited companies to bid on the contract, Cale Parking Systems USA was still in business. Mr. Onorato said he had one binder with information from that company and another with information from Cale America and inadvertently advanced the wrong name for the board's consideration.

About 500 machines will be used to replace 3,000 single-space meters Downtown and in Oakland, the South Side and the Strip District and to create 500 new metered spaces in those neighborhoods. The current single-space meters accept only quarters; the new devices will accept coins and credit cards.

The new devices also will be equipped with "pay-by-plate" technology. Parkers will punch their license plate numbers into the pay stations, and parking enforcement officers will use that data to identify violators.

About 60 of the new devices will replace older multi-space metering machines -- purchased from Cale Parking Systems USA -- in Market Square, Downtown; the Schenley Plaza area in Oakland; and neighborhood lots across the city. Those machines accept credit cards, but they're a "pay-and-display" model that requires motorists to put time-stamped receipts on their dashboards for parking enforcement officers to inspect as they walk by.

Cale Access products are used in various U.S. cities, including Chicago, where officials since 2008 have been criticized for approving a 75-year lease of parking meters to investors known as Chicago Parking Meters.

As part of the lease, investors agreed to install modern metering devices, and they chose Cale's pay-and-display machines. After some initial weather-related glitches, the machines have proven "very dependable," said Avis Lavelle, spokeswoman for Chicago Parking Meters.

However, complaints about Chicago's deal played into Pittsburgh City Council's decision to reject Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's proposed 50-year lease of parking garages, meters and lots in 2010.

Connecticut-based LAZ Parking, which is involved in the Chicago meter lease, was part of a group that offered the high bid -- $452 million -- for Pittsburgh's proposed lease. The bidders had offered to install modern meters.

neigh_city

Joe Smydo: jsmydo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1548. First Published April 24, 2012 12:30 PM


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