Tag Archives: Virginia

Republican congressmen defend $1 a day wage for immigrant detainees who work in private prisons

Source: Tracy Jan, Washington Post, March 16, 2018
 
A group of 18 Republican congressmen is urging the Trump administration to defend private prisons against lawsuits alleging immigrant detainees are forced to work for a wage of $1 a day.  The members say that Congress in 1978 had explicitly set the daily reimbursement rate for voluntary work by detainees in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities, and that the same rate should apply in government-contracted private prisons. … In the March 7 letter, first reported by the Daily Beast, the congressmen argue that the detainees are not employees of private prisons, so they should not be able to file lawsuits seeking to be paid for their work. … At least five lawsuits have been filed against private prisons, including GEO and CoreCivic, over detainee pay and other issues. The lawsuits allege that the private prison giants use voluntary work programs to violate state minimum wage laws, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, unjust enrichment and other labor statutes. The state of Washington sued GEO last year for violating its minimum wage of $11 an hour and sought to force the company to give up profits made through detainee labor. … Inmates in Colorado and California have also sued the Boca Raton, Fla.-based company, alleging that they were forced to work for $1 per day to pay for necessities like food, water and hygiene products. …

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Using Jailed Migrants as a Pool of Cheap Labor
Source: Ian Urbina, New York Times, May 24, 2014

… As the federal government cracks down on immigrants in the country illegally and forbids businesses to hire them, it is relying on tens of thousands of those immigrants each year to provide essential labor — usually for $1 a day or less — at the detention centers where they are held when caught by the authorities. … The federal authorities say the program is voluntary, legal and a cost-saver for taxpayers. But immigrant advocates question whether it is truly voluntary or lawful, and argue that the government and the private prison companies that run many of the detention centers are bending the rules to convert a captive population into a self-contained labor force. … Officials at private prison companies declined to speak about their use of immigrant detainees, except to say that it was legal. Federal officials said the work helped with morale and discipline and cut expenses in a detention system that costs more than $2 billion a year. … The compensation rules at detention facilities are remnants of a bygone era. A 1950 law created the federal Voluntary Work Program and set the pay rate at a time when $1 went much further. (The equivalent would be about $9.80 today.) Congress last reviewed the rate in 1979 and opted not to raise it. It was later challenged in a lawsuit under the Fair Labor Standards Act, which sets workplace rules, but in 1990 an appellate court upheld the rate, saying that “alien detainees are not government ‘employees.’ ”…

Unhappy with cleanliness, Chesterfield school leaders break ties with outside custodial service

Source: Vanessa Remers, Richmond Times-Dispatch, December 12, 2017

Chesterfield County School Board members will bring at least some of their custodial services back in-house, cutting ties with an outside contractor that school officials said couldn’t keep the county’s schools clean enough. School Board members voted unanimously Tuesday not to renew their contract with Tennessee-based Service Solutions Corporation. Instead, they moved forward with a hybrid plan in which the daytime custodial work will be done in-house and after-school cleaning will be completed by at least three outside contractors. … In the past two years, school officials charged SSC more than $400,000 in penalties for not meeting the contracted level of cleanliness. … To shift back to at least some in-house custodial work, School Board members supported hiring custodians to work as day porters, in addition to outsourcing after-school cleaning to at least three contractors. That could cost the school system approximately $19 million in the first year, according to a plan that has been proposed by staff. That’s about $7 million more than it pays now under the current SSC contract. The tab could increase to $23 million annually as the schools increase staff to achieve a higher “ideal” level of cleanliness. … The school system switched from providing custodial services in-house to an outside contractor three years ago, in part because the shift would save millions. But even before that switch happened, school officials said the internal system wasn’t staffed properly. …

Why Virginia Drivers Are Paying a $35 Toll to Drive Into Washington, D.C.

Source: Henry Grabar, Slate, December 7, 2017

Starting Monday, if you want to drive peak-direction on I-66 inside the Beltway, you have two choices: Find a passenger or pay a toll that has soared as high as $40 this week. It is a peek at the future of driving (and more), in which dynamic pricing will offer access to scarce resources. And it made people very, very angry. … It’s one instance in a wave of new dynamic-toll experiments in Virginia and elsewhere. Reluctant Republicans had made a deal with Gov. Terry McAuliffe to allow I-66 tolling in exchange for widening the highway. Now, they say the rates are “unacceptable” and the timing (after the gubernatorial election) suspicious, and they have called on governor-elect Ralph Northam to clean up the mess. But without a paradigm shift in infrastructure spending, a big, thriving city cannot maintain the delicate balance between moving traffic, well-maintained roads, and cheap commuting for solo drivers. … Toll roads have long been a popular choice for public-private partnerships (and with mixed results). But they’ve crept onto interstates too, thanks to congressional carve-outs that allow tolling to add capacity or make bridge repairs. Trump’s infrastructure white paper called for legalizing the tolling of interstates across the board. … This is good news insofar as it hastens the demise of our wasteful, expensive, and environmentally damaging transportation model. … But this trend also poses thorny questions as the culture of the long commute changes. Once the burden of wealthy suburbanites who had fled the city, long car commutes—especially in high-cost metro areas with lots of traffic congestion—are now just as likely to be associated with service workers exiled from central housing markets or others chasing far-flung employment centers. In most cases, that also means they’ve been denied access to mass transit commutes. …

How the Kochs are trying to shake up public schools, one state at a time

Source: Kimberly Hefling, Politico, October 30, 2017

With school choice efforts stalled in Washington, the billionaire Koch brothers’ network is engaged in state-by-state battles with teachers’ unions, politicians and parent groups to push for public funding of private and charter schools.  One of the newest campaigns is the Libre Initiative, a grassroots drive targeting Hispanic families in 11 states so far, under the umbrella of the Charles and David Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity, a powerful conservative and libertarian advocacy group. … The group has had some initial success — for instance, helping to thwart a moratorium on charter school expansion in New Mexico. But it’s also created bitter divisions in the Latino community and led to accusations the Kochs are trying to undermine public education — and even in some cases, to subvert the Democratic process.

… Despite such criticism, the group is hunkering down for the long haul in states it views as ripe for change even as it eyes new states for expansion. Lima says it’s on track to make contact with more than 100,000 Hispanic households this year on school choice. Besides Nevada and New Mexico, Libre is organizing in Arizona, Colorado, Virginia, Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin. Its recent efforts, with other Koch-backed groups, include:

  • A planned “six-figure” spend in Nevada on “deep canvassing” in Hispanic neighborhoods to build support for educational savings accounts, which enable families to use state tax dollars to pay for private school. …
  • A lawsuit brought by Americans for Prosperity, among others, aimed at stopping a 2018 Arizona referendum asking voters whether they want to keep a school choice law passed earlier this year. …
  • A “six-figure” Libre and Americans for Prosperity campaign in Colorado this summer to promote charter schools and education savings accounts and another ahead of a Nov. 7 school board race by the Americans for Prosperity Foundation to push choice-friendly issues.
  • A seven-figure investment In Virginia’s gubernatorial race by Americans for Prosperity that includes a video criticizing Virginia Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, for his opposition to education savings accounts.
  • Mailings in Spanish and English supporting a Florida law that encourages charter schools in communities with low-performing schools. After Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, signed it into law, the state Democratic Party said he’d “declared war on our public schools.” …

After a two year fight, contract workers at National and Dulles airports win a pay increase

Source: Luz Lazo and Lori Aratani, Washington Post, April 19, 2017

… The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority’s board voted Wednesday to require companies that do business at the airports to pay contract workers a base hourly wage of $11.55 starting in January. In all, 4,500 workers — responsible for keeping terminals and plane cabins clean, moving bags, serving meals, and transporting people with disabilities — are expected to benefit from the pay increase. Many of the workers make as little as $7.25 an hour. The plan, approved on a 15 to 1 vote, also will boost pay for Dulles Toll Road workers. The expansion of the authority’s living wage program covers eight additional contracts, and will cost $750,000 to $850,000 annually, according to a report prepared for the board. The base hourly wage will increase to $11.55 on Jan. 1 of next year, $12.15 on Jan. 1, 2019, and $12.75 on Jan. 1, 2020. After that, increases will be tied to inflation.

… MWAA has a living wage policy in place that requires vendors who contract directly with the authority to pay workers $14.27 an hour. However the policy does not cover those who work for business who contract directly with the airlines or those who work for business that operate concessions. … While the policy raises the minimum wage for workers, it doesn’t address their push to require companies to pay for health benefits and submit to a labor peace agreement. …

This company is making millions from America’s broken immigration system

Source: Michael E. Miller, Washington Post, March 9, 2017
 
… More than 350,000 undocumented immigrants were detained between Oct. 1, 2015, and Sept. 30, 2016 — a number that could rise this year under President Trump’s immigration crackdown. As asylum seekers, visa violators and those charged with crimes wait for their cases to be heard in badly backlogged immigration courts, thousands are eligible for bail, just as they would be in criminal courts. Yet few can afford it.  Libre has found a niche helping them post their bonds — for a price. In exchange for their freedom, immigrants sign contracts promising to pay Libre $420 per month while wearing the company’s GPS devices. But these contracts are the subject of lawsuits and allegations of fraud by immigrants such as Flores who claim they didn’t understand them. … Few companies have benefited from the country’s broken immigration system like Libre. An unprecedented immigration court backlog of more than 540,000 cases, fueled by the Central American refu­gee crisis and coupled with soaring immigration bond prices, means that many detainees eligible for bail choose between spending many months behind bars or paying Libre’s fees.

… As Libre has expanded, its contracts and tactics have come under increasing scrutiny from immigration lawyers, advocates and elected officials. Both a Guatemalan government official and a California congresswoman have called for investigations, although an ICE inquiry three years ago concluded that the company was not breaking the law. Two lawsuits in California, including a class-action complaint filed last month, could bring new attention to the company’s business practices and the control it wields over the lives of its clients. … Last year, 12 percent of the country’s detained immigrants — more than 42,000 — found a way to post bond. There was no competition, although ICE itself contracts with a private company, BI, to monitor undocumented immigrants with GPS ankle bracelets instead of detaining them. The program, which has grown from 6,000 immigrants in 2013 to about 30,000 today, doesn’t cost immigrants anything. Instead, BI charges the government $4.41 per immigrant per day, according to a 2015 report by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General. ICE spent about $50 million on the program last year. …

These For-Profit Schools Are ‘Like a Prison’

Source: Sarah Carr, Francesca Berardi, Zoë Kirsch and Stephen Smiley, ProPublica, March 8, 2017

… Over six months in 2013 and 2014, about a half-dozen parents, students and community members at Paramount Academy — billed as a “therapeutic” day program — complained of abusive behavior by the school’s staff. … Thirteen Camelot students have alleged in interviews or documents that they were shoved, beaten, or thrown — assaults almost always referred to as “slamming” — by Camelot staff members, usually for the sin of talking back, in separate incidents that span 10 years and three states. … Two additional students, and five Camelot staff members, say they have personally witnessed beatings or physical aggression by staff. The abuse allegedly occurred in Camelot programs in Reading; Lancaster; Philadelphia; New Orleans; and Pensacola, Florida. … Despite such allegations, Camelot has continued to expand. It contracts with traditional school districts to run about 40 schools across the country — schools that serve kids who have gotten into trouble, have emotional or behavioral issues, or have fallen far behind academically. In 2015, Camelot reported more than $77 million in revenue, more than a third from contracts with the school districts of Philadelphia, Houston, and Chicago. … About half a million students in the United States attend alternative schools, which are publicly funded but often managed by private, for-profit companies such as Camelot. Camelot’s story illustrates the risk that for-profit schools, which are favored by the Trump administration and new Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, may put earnings ahead of student welfare. It also exposes the dismal educational options available to some students that traditional high schools don’t want to serve, because they are disruptive, severely disabled, years behind in school, or have criminal backgrounds.

… Add it all up, skeptics say, and the Camelot experience starts to resemble the nation’s incarceration system: racially biased, isolated, punitive, unnecessarily violent and designed, above all else, to maintain obedience and control. … Public school districts typically contract with Camelot to run one of three types of programs: “transitional schools” for kids with behavior issues; “therapeutic programs” for those with special behavioral and emotional needs; and “accelerated programs” for students who have fallen far behind. … Most Camelot students share two characteristics. They are nearly all poor. And they are overwhelmingly peopleof color. … The incidents at Camelot tended to follow a similar pattern, according to multiple accounts from students and staff members. Nonacademic staff members (usually the behavioral specialists and team leaders but sometimes higher-level employees) were permitted by administrators and school leaders to manhandle students as a form of intimidation — whether the teenagers had acted out or not. They preyed most often on students who had the least recourse to complain: social pariahs whose parents were disengaged or unable to advocate effectively, because they didn’t speak English, for instance. School leaders condoned the abuse and in some cases even encouraged it, according to Jandy Rivera and others. … In most middle- and upper-income communities, parents provide an informal yet crucial form of accountability for schools — protesting, and even suing over, mistreatment of their children. But this safety net is largely missing in the Camelot schools, where parents lack the knowledge, confidence, resources or language skills to complain. Those who have come forward say that few people in positions of power, including school officials, lawyers and police officers, take them seriously — if they listen at all. …

Can a Private Company Teach Troubled Kids?
Source: Alexia Fernandez Campbell, The Atlantic, August 27, 2016

Disruptive students are a headache for public schools. They distract from lessons, skip class, and often bring down the graduation rates. That’s why school districts across the country have resorted to opening alternative schools in recent decades, with hopes that smaller classes and individual attention might help these students get their diplomas. But even these alternative schools (which differ from charter schools in that they are still part of school districts and thus answer to superintendents) can be a burden: They’re expensive to run, and their graduation rates are still pretty low. Desperate for help, many school districts are now hiring private companies to manage these alternative schools and educate their most troublesome students. … Richmond is one of the latest cities to experiment with outsourcing education. In July, the city hired a Texas-based company called Camelot Education to run the Richmond Alternative School, which last year served 223 students from across the city in grades 6 through 11. Nearly all of the students at Richmond Alternative are black (97 percent) and most are poor (87 percent qualify for free lunches). Some black parents once dubbed it the “colored children’s prison” and it has been criticized for contributing to what’s called the school-to-prison pipeline—Virginia is the state that refers the most students to law enforcement. …

… The turn to the private sector is not new for Richmond. In 2004, the city hired a private company to run a previous iteration of its alternative school, which was then called the Capital City Program. The $4.6 million agreement with a Tennessee-based company called Community Education Partners was the school district’s most expensive contract that year. … The quality of the education provided by Community Education Partners turned out to be substandard, according to a Richmond Magazine investigation, which found that a third of the school’s teachers were not credentialed. Elsewhere, schools run by Community Education Partners were not faring much better. The American Civil Liberties Union in Georgia sued the company in 2008 for allegedly providing “fundamentally inferior” education to students at an alternative school in Atlanta—an environment “so violent and intimidating that learning is all but impossible.” Atlanta canceled its contract with the company, and a year later, so did the city of Philadelphia. …

… The teachers who have been working at Richmond Alternative the past few years will have an opportunity to interview for teaching positions with Camelot, Bock says, but, if hired, they will be required to undergo the company’s de-escalation and behavior modification training. Companies such as Camelot can pay teachers less if they choose to, as they are not subject to collective bargaining agreements with the local teachers’ union. … This may be the first time that Richmond will work with Camelot, but data on the company’s presence in Philadelphia provides a fuller picture of its track record. Camelot was one of half a dozen companies running Philadelphia’s alternative schools in the past decade, the largest experiment in privatizing alternative education to date. …

Petersburg water committee formed

Source: John Adam, The Progress-Index, March 7, 2017

In an eventful night for the city council, each council member appointed a citizen to an ad hoc committee, whose duty it will be to further examine the bids for the water system. The ad hoc committee, will be tasked with “collecting relevant data relating to the operations of the water and sewer systems of the city”. This committee will study other localities that have privatized its water system, and it will also rank alternatives to selling the system with supporting justifications. … The committee will look at the bids submitted by Aqua Virginia Water Company and Virginia American Water Company, and will report its findings to the committee in the upcoming months. …

Petersburg considers privatizing water department; residents call for more changes
Source: Brent Solomon, NBC12, December 14, 2016

Petersburg leaders will consider handing over the city-owned water department to a private vendor. This comes after a debacle dating back several months with the city’s utility department following inaccurate bills, faulty water meters, and not enough staff members to handle all of the concerns. One company has already put in a bid to take over the city’s water department. Now, Petersburg must advertise to see who else is willing to step up to the plate. Residents have had enough when it comes to the city water woes, forcing those who run the city to take a closer look. … Bobb urged council to consider handing over the water department to an outside company. Council members approved the recommendation. There are about 25 or so employees in the department. Bobb explained what would happen to their jobs. “Employees are always protected,” Bobb said. “That’s what you’d want to see in this deal?” NBC 12 asked. “It will absolutely happen,” he responded. The company would handle billing and collections for Petersburg. The city will now advertise to see if there are any other bids and review the options over the next 45 days. …

How the Uber effect will reinvent public transit

Source: Rahul Kumar, American City & County, February 15, 2017

A recent study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) came to the headline-grabbing conclusion that up to 95 percent of New York City taxi rides could be met through only 2,000 on-demand 10-person shuttles. The study demonstrates what companies like Uber and Lyft are striving toward, but also what many public transit agencies are struggling to address: that future transportation systems will seamlessly and dynamically match riders with the best transit modes and routes. … Existing fixed route-based transit systems are just that: fixed. There are plenty of advantages to these systems, not the least of which is operational simplicity. But our nation’s backbone of transit agencies – often overburdened and underfunded – should be asking themselves “what service options do riders want?” as opposed to “what service options are the easiest for us to deliver?” The answer is personal public transit. This concept of on-demand mobility isn’t all that new, however. … Another issue is the cost and operation of paratransit. … Transit agencies from Boston to Washington have recently started to look to partners like Uber and Lyft to help provide a ride-hailing option to relieve fiscal and infrastructure pressures. A 2016 Brookings report estimates transit agencies could save $1.1 billion to $2.2 billion per year using ride-hailing companies for paratransit, based on an average $13 to $18 per ride. However, the secret here is that versus transit these savings do not scale up very well; ride-hailing services are really not designed to handle simultaneous, multiple trips efficiently, therefore even a bus with six passengers on it has less of a cost impact than six separately ordered Uber vehicles. … Forward-thinking city planners in Gainesville, Fla., and Helsinki are reevaluating the traditional transit equation and instead choosing to co-opt ridesharing and even autonomous vehicle technology to fill current service gaps in less densely populated areas. … Solving the inefficiency riddle will ultimately require transit agencies, technology companies and other innovators to seamlessly work together to maximize social benefits because public transit benefits every American—even if you don’t ride.

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Cities release invoices showing Uber bills
Source: Ryan Gillespie, Orlando Sentinel, January 25, 2017

Five Central Florida cities that cut deals with Uber hoping to boost SunRail ridership have released records revealing how much money they will pay the ride-sharing service, which the company had hoped to keep a “trade secret.” Cities began receiving invoices this week that tabulated costs through Jan. 17, which just surpasses the halfway point of the yearlong program. To that date, the highest total came from Altamonte Springs, which has paid for $14,863.59 in Uber rides. Sanford received a bill showing it owed $7,869.99. Additionally, Lake Mary owes $723.38 and Longwood owes $681.17, and Maitland owes $324.65 records show. In July, the cities began the one-year pilot with Uber to cover 25 percent of Uber fares on rides that start or finish at a SunRail station, and also start or finish within a city’s limits. Cities also cover 20 percent of rides on trips that start and finish within the borders of participating cities. …

Can public transit and ride-share companies get along?
Source: Kyle Shelton, The Conversation, September 22, 2016

In Centennial, Colorado and Altamonte Springs, Florida, residents and visitors can now get a free ride to the nearest train station. The ride is paid for by the local public transit agency, but it’s not a public bus that makes the trip. Rather, it’s a car driven by someone working for ride-sharing companies Lyft and Uber. There are potential public benefits – the hope of increased ridership, better service for hard-to-serve areas and cost and equipment efficiencies. Competition could push sometimes slow-moving transit agencies to innovate and improve. There are also risks. Ride-sharing companies have devastated the private taxi market, effectively undercutting the entire industry in some cities. Mobility rights advocates and transit employees fear the same thing could happen to public transit, remaking, under private ownership, the way millions of Americans get around every day. … A likely outcome of ride-share and authority interaction is more of what is already taking shape in Colorado, Florida and many other locales – small-scale, replicable cooperation. Centennial and Altamonte Springs are attempting to address what is know in the transportation sector as the “first mile/last mile” problem. The idea is that many potential transit riders don’t use the service because it’s too far from either the beginning or end of a given trip. Offering ride-sharing as a way to connect from the doorway to the transit stop may help overcome this issue. … The biggest question about these new relationships is how well they meet riders’ needs over time. Disability rights advocates have already warned that substituting ride-share services for existing agency-run paratransit programs – on-demand rides for users with disabilities – may be a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Public agencies and most private transportation companies are bound to provide these services to all users, but it’s not yet clear whether newer ride-sharing companies must also – or how contracting with a government agency might require it. …
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Metro halts plans to privatize parking

Source: Max Smith, WTOP, November 18, 2016

Metro has canceled a request for proposals to privatize its parking lots. Documents related to the procurement, dated Thursday, say that Metro must re-evaluate the requirements. When Metro published the initial formal request in September, it hoped to find a way to give a private company the responsibility for maintenance and upgrades in exchange for the rights to collect parking fees. General Manager Paul Wiedefeld included privatizing parking on his list of potential management changes for Metro back in March. Concerns about the proposal included whether there could be a conflict between maximizing parking revenue and maximizing the number of people who take the train rather than joining D.C. area traffic jams.

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The Deal That Could Hurt D.C. For 50 Years
Source: Donald Cohen, Huffington Post, September 15, 2016

Public transit in Washington, D.C., is in rough shape. After years of safety issues, including several train collisions, the agency in charge, the Washington Metro Area Transit Authority (WMATA), is proposing to cut train service hours. But another proposal may be even more troubling. Two weeks ago, WMATA began taking bids from private companies to operate its parking facilities. In exchange for a big up-front payment to the agency, the winning company would collect fees from people parked at train stations for the next 50 years. … It discourages public transit. In order for the private company to make a profit, parking rates will have to go up — as much as 3% a year, according to WMATA. If it costs more money to park and ride the train, people may look for other ways into the city. We lose control of assets we own. In a similar 75-year deal, Chicago handed over its parking meters in 2008 to banking giant Morgan Stanley for a one-time $1.2 billion payment. But that’s not all it handed over. The city is penalized if they do anything that cuts into Morgan Stanley’s profit, like adding bus or bike lanes. … It’s short-term thinking. The parking facilities currently pull in nearly $50 million a year for WMATA. Privatization would send that money—and more—to a private company instead of the public. In Chicago, Morgan Stanley is on pace to make back its $1.2 billion upfront payment by 2020, with more than 60 years of meter money still to come. …

Metro Seeking Private Contractor to Manage Its Parking Garages; Prices Could Go Up
Source: Scott MacFarlane, NBC Washington, September 3, 2016

Metrorail is preparing to hand over responsibility of its lucrative parking garages to a private contractor, the News4 I-Team has learned. WMATA currently manages 26 parking garages and 30 parking lots among its stations in D.C., Virginia and Maryland. Now the agency is seeking bids from companies interested in operating, financing and maintaining the transit system’s parking system. … While WMATA would be giving up the bulk of its parking revenue, the contract would grant money to WMATA. While the amount is unknown, it could exceed WMATA’s current parking revenues. In its proposal to would-be contractors, WMATA suggests the price of “base parking fees” increase 3 percent each year for the duration of the deal. The agency said it would also consider expanding the hours during which parking is charged, to include holidays and late nights. … The bids from private contractors are due by Oct. 28. WMATA is seeking a 50-year agreement with the contractor, according to an agency proposal reviewed by the I-Team. The proposal said it expects to close the deal by next July 1. The contractor would oversee the system’s 59,267 daily parking spaces, 56 parking lots and garages, and 3,445 parking meters. …