The San Mateo City Council has agreed to renew the contract with Serco, which provides parking enforcement services in the city, despite widespread concerns about excessive ticketing over the past year.

“Clearly Serco is a work in progress,” said Councilman Rick Bonilla during a meeting Monday. “We need to give it a little more time. Kinks are getting worked of the system.”

The contract with Serco, a Britain-based company that provides public services in cities throughout the world, came in response to an increase in complaints about parking infractions in 2016 and 2017, police Sgt. Shannon Hagan said during a meeting Monday.

Complaints were about blocked driveways and garages, rolled curbs and oversized commercial vehicles, among other infractions, and they largely emanated from the city’s residential areas, Hagan said. He also said the city was short on parking enforcement staff at the time.

“We just didn’t have the staff so a new concept was needed for parking enforcement,” Hagan said.

The council in 2019 agreed on a hybrid enforcement model in which a contractor handles parking enforcement while the city continues to run vehicle abatement operations. The city entered into an agreement with Serco that year and the company issued its first citation in February of this year.

Since Serco took over enforcement, many residents complained of getting tickets for infractions such as parking too far from the curb that for years had been ignored. They were especially outraged parking ticket rates appeared to be increasing during a pandemic.

“This aggressive ticketing by Serco is creating unnecessary ill will towards the city government and police department at a time when people need to work from home, continue to be ill and isolate at home and a time when people are unemployed,” said resident Linda Hansen-Raj during Monday’s meeting.

Hagan said parking ticket rates increased since Serco came to the city because enforcement hours increased. Between July 2019 and July 2020 parking tickets went from 5,288 to 7,686 — a 45% increase — while enforcement labor hours went up by 41% during that time, Hagan said. The number of citations issued per hour barely changed from 2.7 to 2.8 during that time.

“We have more people out there who are being more proactive to meet the demands of parking enforcement,” he said. “There’s no magic increase, it’s just if we have people out there doing their job, they’re going to get the tickets.”

Hagan added most parking tickets in the city are between $42 and $45 and are more than double that in San Francisco and San Jose.

Councilmembers said the Serco contract has largely been successful and should be renewed.

“We tried to do this full time and have it under our police force and for many reasons it did not work,” said Deputy Mayor Eric Rodriguez. “This is working and we’re still getting some kinks out of the rope as we’re trying to make this work.”

Rodriguez added he does want to see improved communication with neighborhood associations about parking enforcement.

Mayor Joe Goethals echoed the sentiment.

“This is a double-edged sword,” he said. “We know when there’s not enough enforcement people are going to complain and when there’s too much enforcement people are going to complain. There’s no such thing as perfect.”

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