When it comes to rules for parking, Pittsburgh can't seem to make up its mind.
Park on the street in the Shadyside, Squirrel Hill or South Side business districts and the spaces are free after 6 p.m. Park in a Pittsburgh Parking Authority lot in those same neighborhoods, and you must pay for the privilege until 11 p.m. Pity the poor motorist trying to decipher the rules.
In an effort to find extra dollars to save the city's employee pension plan from a state takeover, council in December 2010 approved rate hikes and extended the hours when parkers must pay for on-street spaces to 10 p.m., from 6 p.m., in seven city business districts
That 10 p.m. cutoff was implemented in the summer of 2011, but it quickly was suspended and reset at 6 p.m. when complaints started coming in. Among the gripes: Theater-goers said they had to leave performances mid-stream to feed meters and business owners said shoppers would fleeing to the suburbs.
The competition from shopping malls for city businesses is a fact of urban life that won't be erased no matter what hours are set for parking enforcement. It only could be removed if free parking were available all the time, and that won't happen here or in any other city.
The parking authority has made one significant change since council announced the enforcement rollback -- new, state-of-the-art pay stations that provide flexibility. The kiosks can be adjusted to give parkers longer or shorter minimum stays depending on demand -- long enough for dinner and a movie, for instance.
Nonetheless, Councilman Bill Peduto and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl both favor a permanent elimination of charging for on-street parking in the evenings. We disagree and think the right decision would be for council to take no further action and allow the 10 p.m. on-street deadline to go back into effect on Jan. 2.
Because Pittsburgh only has the authority to impose a $52 annual tax on people who work in the city, it has limited means to capture compensation from suburbanites who shop, dine or attend arts and sporting events in the city. Requiring payment from motorists for parking is one way the city can fairly assess a user fee on residents and suburbanites alike.