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California: Meter Maids to Search Motorists For Documentation
Private meter maids in West Hollywood, California to ask for documentation from handicapped permit users.

West Hollywood parking Prius
Meter maids employed by a for-profit, foreign company are confronting motorists and seizing disabled parking permits at the direction of the city of West Hollywood, California. Earlier this month, officials announced a "crack down" on the abuse of restricted-use parking spaces by having meter maids determine whether the users of disabled parking permits are legitimately handicapped.

"Under a program initiated by the city of West Hollywood's Parking Division, drivers displaying disabled placards may be randomly approached to provide proof of placard ownership," a city press release explained. "Failure to provide the required identification card will result in the confiscation of the disabled placard and a parking citation for misuse, which carries a $500 fine."

Suspect motorists would be stopped and questioned by private employees of the British company, Serco Group plc which took over parking enforcement for the city in May 2006. Under its contract with West Hollywood, Serco must disguise the company's involvement in parking enforcement. The Serco-owned office where meter maids report must display signs that make it appear to be a city-owned location. Serco's nine Toyota Prius vehicles and all employees must meet the city's strict requirements that they be indistinguishable from official cars and workers.

"Vehicles must not have any company ID, name or logo," the contract states. "All shirt and jacket sleeves and hats are to have an emblem patch designating West Hollywood Parking Enforcement... All uniforms are to include a metal name tag, identification number and badge which must be worn at all times."

Despite the requirement to confront drivers, confiscate property and impose a substantial monetary penalty, the city requires very little ability or training for its meter maids. A prospective Parking Meter Compliance Agent only needs a GED and the completion of a one-week training course to qualify for the job.

"Little creativity and latitude is expected," a posting for a $10.60 per hour Serco meter maid position in Chicago, Illinois stated.

The city pays a $164,595 monthly fee to Serco for 20 meter maids and 11 supervisors for a total annual cost of $2 million. The contract is key to balancing municipal finances.

"Revenues in fiscal year 2009-10 are expected to reach a five year low," the city's 2010-2012 budget explained. "The four top revenue producers for the general fund continue to be transient occupancy tax, sales and use tax, property tax and parking fines... Parking fines are expected to increase by over 20 percent due to the increasing citation amount."

The city raised the cost of parking citations and parking meter rates to boost revenue from $9,986,900 in revenue to $11.2 million for fiscal 2011 -- an amount greater than that generated from sales and property taxes. The city is also counting on $1.3 million in profit from its red light camera program.

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