By Robert Zullo / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Back when he was a city councilman, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto called expanding parking meter enforcement past 6 p.m. a mistake, saying in 2012 that “local business districts were hurt by nighttime enforcement” when it was briefly attempted the year prior.
And as recently as last month, when Mr. Peduto presented his $507.8 million operating budget and $76.6 million capital budget for 2015 to city council, Kevin Acklin, the mayor’s chief of staff, said the mayor did not support nighttime parking enforcement.
Now, the package of meter-rate increases and expanded enforcement hours in some parts of the city approved by the council Wednesday represents a sizable portion of the $516.6 million in revenue projected in Mr. Peduto’s first budget. The budget will come up for a final vote Monday.
Tim McNulty, Mr. Peduto’s spokesman, said that after talks with council members, “the mayor decided to allow council to approve how best to implement dynamic parking and extend nighttime enforcement in areas where it made sense for their particular districts.”
“Sacrifices are needed by everyone to balance the budget,” Mr. McNulty added.
Combined with a new agreement with the Pittsburgh Parking Authority that will steer more meter revenue to the city, the changes are expected to haul in an additional $10 million a year from parking and will pave the way for a “dynamic pricing model” intended to set future rates based on supply and demand.
The new agreement, negotiated this fall, means that the parking authority’s payment-in-lieu-of-taxes to the city will increase from $1.3 million to $1.9 million and that the city will get most of the meter revenue, minus about $4.6 million plus expenses for maintenance and operation of the meters for the authority, and 100 percent of parking court revenue. It had gotten 6.5 percent of meter revenue and 90 percent of parking court revenue.
Under the agreement, total revenue to the city from parking will increase from $20.2 million to nearly $24.8 million, still short of the nearly $28.9 million Mr. Peduto’s administration sought.
That means the city, starting as early as Feb. 1, will expand enforcement hours to 10 p.m. in Downtown and South Side and add new meters in the Strip District, Lawrenceville, Downtown, South Side, Oakland, the North Shore and Uptown.
The most expensive parking in the city, at least initially, will be Downtown, where rates will go from $3 an hour to $4 an hour. Oakland rates will go from $2 to $3 an hour; the North Shore will go from $2.50 an hour to $3; and rates in East Liberty, Shadyside, South Side, Squirrel Hill, the Strip District and Uptown will go from $1 an hour to $1.50.
The rate hikes are projected to bring in nearly $5 million more a year.
Mr. Peduto’s administration had initially proposed adding expanded enforcement hours to the North Shore as well, but Councilwoman Darlene Harris, who represents the North Side, successfully lobbied her colleagues to pass an amendment excluding the area, which includes Heinz Field and PNC Park.
Mrs. Harris argued it was unfair to leave out other neighborhoods with heavy nightlife.
“I don't believe this is a win-win for everybody,” she said. “Just to take Downtown, North Shore and South Side … when there's all this other nightlife in all these other areas, is wrong.”
Parking Authority executive director David Onorato and John Fournier, Mr. Peduto's deputy chief of staff, said the new rates and enforcement hours will take effect first, with a target date of Feb. 1. An analysis of parking trends to set rates to steer cars to less-used streets and away from high-use streets based on price will follow.
Though the parking authority will be responsible for crunching numbers and data, it will be up to city finance director Paul Leger to lower or raise rates.
Councilwoman Deb Gross was disappointed that the dynamic pricing model, which has been successfully piloted in Oakland over the past year with the assistance of Carnegie Mellon students and faculty, won’t be rolled out immediately and could take till the end of the year to implement.
“That's too bad. I'm not sure how I feel about that,” she said.
It’s not the city’s first brush with expanded meter enforcement. In December 2010, city council passed a five-year schedule of meter rate increases and approved enforcement from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. in Downtown, the North Shore, South Side, Oakland, Shadyside, the Strip District and Squirrel Hill. It was intended to generate more money for the city’s then-ailing pension plan, at risk of state takeover.
The rate increases and the nighttime enforcement provisions took effect in June 2011, though the expanded enforcement was quickly suspended amid complaints and a row with the parking authority over the pace of a meter-modernization program.
The Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership and the Oakland Planning and Development Corporation could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Wanda Wilson, executive director of the Oakland Planning and Development Corporation, would not comment on meter increases or enforcement hours.
Jonathan Growall, a real estate investor who serves as president of the South Side Chamber of Commerce, said the news came as a disappointing surprise. The group was hoping to see new meter revenue come back to the neighborhood for public safety, transportation or other initiatives for a neighborhood that sees a regular influx of thousands of bar patrons every weekend.
“We need funding of all sorts,” he said, adding that the group also wants a place at the parking policy table for property and business owners on the South Side. “I don’t see the plan for what they're going to do with this revenue other than dump it into the general fund.”
Robert Zullo: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-3909 or on Twitter @rczullo. First Published December 10, 2014 3:53 PM