How the City of Detroit used Parking to Restore Citizen Confidence


How the City of Detroit used Parking to Restore Citizen Confidence

Gone are the days where Detroit’s mainstay in the news revolved around being the nation’s largest municipal bankruptcy. Today, the citizens of Detroit are regaining what was once lost; trust and reliability in the city’s municipal systems. Though rebuilding the struggling city was problematic enough, the city knew it would also have to win back its people to bring business, enterprise and young professionals, growing the economic development the city so desperately needed. 

In 2015, Detroit’s Municipal Parking Department took on the challenge. 

Out with the Old

In the years leading up to economic recovery in 2015, just about everything was due for a facelift. Posing alongside overflowing city trash bins and unkempt pedestrian sidewalks stood parking meters that were anything but reliable. 

“The city was growing and we needed reliable parking to support it,” said Norman White, Director of Detroit’s Municipal Parking Department. “Old meters surrounding new attractions were causing problems, hindering locals and citizens from having a pleasant parking experience. From years of wear, the meters would often break down, but with no online maintenance flag installed, the service techs wouldn’t know until a customer complained. Unreliable meters also meant ticket errors, causing even more disgruntled customers who now lost trust in the system.”

“We had no proof of payment if the meter made an error,” said Keith Hutchings, Deputy Director of the Detroit Municipal Parking Department, “Having no proof of payment made it challenging to address grievances.” The consumer confidence in the system was failing and with it, one of the city’s streams of reliable revenue. 

“We found it hard to have confidence in the meters,” said Hutchings, “We knew we were losing revenue left and right.” 

To get an accurate recording of how revenue passed through the meters was challenging. There was no electronic communication inside the machines to determine how much revenue was received until it was collected and counted by hand. 

In addition, it was difficult to maintain the chain-of-custody from the moment the coins were collected to when they were deposited. “The entire process was risky,” said White. 

A Million Dollar Decision

Toward the end of December 2014, the Detroit Municipal Parking Department had to make a decision. Do they privatize the parking system in Detroit? By doing so, the city would transfer its control and responsibility to an outside company that would manage it all. Or should the Municipal Parking Department take on the challenge of correcting the problem on its own? 

“After several presentations, I understood the lure of how much money we could make in that moment…to sell it off to a private company,” said White, “but I had to look at the type of control the city would have to give up.” White and his staff knew the people of the city of Detroit. They understood what the citizens would be ready for when it came down to extensive changes in parking.

“While at some point we will recognize the need to increase prices,” said Hutchings, “by maintaining control, we could ensure that people can afford to go downtown. There was simply a better case for the city to manage the parking system.”

In with the New

With the decision to keep parking under the authority of the city, and the knowing that the only way for that decision to be successful was to bring back consumer confidence, White and his team were ready to select a complete parking solution. The perfect fit? Cale America’s CWT Pay-by-License-Plate solar charged meters. 

“We felt that if we could develop a more integrated system, we could increase revenue, maintain control and satisfy customer needs. Cale joined forces to help make those goals reality,” said Hutchings.

In July of 2015, 500 CWT kiosks were installed, stretching throughout Downtown Detroit including the business, medical, entertainment, cultural and new development areas in Detroit. 



With the city of Detroit making its way back on the map, the department knew they needed a solution that would attract business professionals and the younger demographics. It had to be innovative, flexible and easy to use. 

“The new kiosks were driven by simplicity,” said Hutchings, “people could pay at the kiosk using a credit card or coin, use the mobile payment app, or even call in a parking session.”

Hutchings adds that recently the city has become a ‘walking town’ where locals feel confident that they can park at a meter, walk around the city, and add time to their session via their phone. White notes that this has fed even more into the revival of the city. With more people parking and walking, there’s more sidewalk traffic, prompting new businesses to open and older ones to thrive. 

Meter Down-Time

With the software from the new kiosks, downtime reduced drastically. Compared to the old meters that didn’t have a notification system that could result in a meter being down for days, the new kiosks automatically sent out a maintenance flag that helped reduced down-time to just minutes.

 “The downtime of meters has improved tremendously because of the technology and Cale’s technical support,” said White. “We only have small issues now, and when we do, a tech is out there instantly. This has played a role in increasing our revenues and reducing customer complaints significantly.”

Consumer Compliance & Confidence

With the previous coin meter system, there was no proof of payment, leaving customers to question transactions and reliability. White explains that the Backoffice system records the Parking Enforcement Officers, LPR vehicles and payment history activities to pull it all together. Everyone is on the same page. 

“We all have access to view the payment in one way or another. The customer can go online and see pictures and we can view it in the back-office system,” said White.

“The people don’t feel like it’s a ‘gotcha’ kind of system. The over-all confidence in the department has changed tremendously. It’s like a new company.”


Since meter installation in 2015, revenue has been increasing annually. White notes that exact meter revenue from the old, unautomated systems was difficult to determine, but was estimated to be 1.7 million in 2015. In 2017, the department has more than tripled the same revenues. Everything is collected, counted and recorded with automated and innovative technology. 

“After several presentations,
I understood the lure of how much money we could make in that moment…to sell it off to a private company, but I had to look at the type of control the city would
have to give up.”

A City Revived

From entertainment venues, sports complexes, increased work force and nightlife environment, the city has given its citizens back trust and a promising future of economic health. With the day-time traffic at its highest and the evenings booming for events, the usage of the entire city is ever-growing. 

Moving forward, the city will be adding more kiosks and looking into Residential Permit Parking to ease the flow of event parking into neighborhoods. 

“We were thriving on chaos,” said White, attributing the revival to the need for change, “But I’m a numbers guy – we have data to back up the changes made to the parking system to this point.”

Julianne Wilhelm is the Marketing Coordinator for Flowbird Group. She can be reached at

Article contributed by:
Julianne Wilhelm
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