Parking Authority forgets to post 'Don't Pay' message on meters

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There was a parking Grinch in town Saturday.

Because the Pittsburgh Parking Authority forgot to change the city's electronic parking meters, possibly thousands of holiday shoppers paid for parking in the city Saturday even though they didn't have to, authority executive director David Onorato said Saturday.

Pittsburgh City Council passed a parking resolution -- sponsored by councilman Bill Peduto, who is the incoming mayor -- on Nov. 7 that was signed into law Nov. 19 by current Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.

The resolution was supposed to make all metered parking free in the city on Nov. 30 in honor of National Small Business Saturday, an initiative that is supposed to get shoppers to patronize local businesses.

A copy of that resolution would have been sent to the parking authority, Mr. Onorato said, and the change to the meters should have been made because of it.

"It's not the city's fault," he said.

There were advertisements and some media coverage of the free parking resolution that might have helped some people know not to pay.

But the parking authority has the ability with the electronic parking kiosks to simply send a message that will post on each on of them informing everyone looking to park to not pay on certain days.

"We probably should have looked at it and updated" the parking meters, Mr. Onorato said. "It was an oversight on our part."

It didn't take a reporter long Saturday waiting near some electronic parking kiosks off Market Square to find people who had paid or were about to pay -- and were upset about it either way.

Colleen Hartbauer, 24, of West View was just about to pay $6 to park for three hours along Forbes Avenue a half block from Market Square when a reporter asked her if she knew parking was supposed to be free.

"No. I'm glad you stopped me," she said, on her way to meet her family and do some holiday shopping. "It's not a lot but it's nice to have $6 in my pocket that the city wasn't supposed to. Where's the holiday spirit?"

As she spoke, another woman approached the parking kiosk and was about to pay to park before Ms. Hartbauer told her it was free.

It's not clear how many people ended up paying to park who shouldn't have, Mr. Onorato said.

But those who did were not happy to hear that even the small amount they did pay was unnecessary.

"That's ludicrous," said Michael Wilson, 32, of McKees Rocks, who had paid $2.50 to park on Forbes Avenue and was getting into his car after shopping for shoes before a reporter told him he didn't have to pay.

"It should be free on weekends anyway," he said. "Make it easier on shoppers on these cold shopping days."

Mr. Peduto was upset that the parking authority didn't follow through on the resolution because with the new electronic kiosks, it should have been easier than posting paper signs all over town.

"If we spent millions on this technology and don't utilize it, what's the point?" he asked. "If it's not working they should figure out a way to repay everybody in the city who paid."

Alternate relief, he said, could be the parking authority offering another free day.

Though he was made aware of the situation at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Mr. Onorato said there was nothing he could do about it except to tell people that if they parked at a meter they can call the parking authority or come in with a parking receipt and get a refund.

He said he had no idea how much money the authority would take in on Saturday from the unsuspecting parkers, "but we could find out later," he said.

National Small Business Saturday was created in 2010 by American Express, which aimed to raise the profile of local businesses who might not get as big of a slice of holiday shopping revenues as big box and chain stores.

Sean D. Hamill: or 412-263-2579. First Published November 30, 2013 2:12 PM

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