Consultant urges rate hikes at authority-owned parking sites

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A consulting firm has recommended rate increases for city parking garages, meters and metered lots, saying the changes would make for more efficient use of parking spaces and enable the parking authority to generate millions of dollars in new revenue.

All-day parking rates at authority garages and attended lots, Downtown, are 25 percent to 60 percent below those charged by privately owned garages nearby, Walker Parking Consultants said in the study, which the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette obtained through a Right-to-Know request. Rates at metered lots and on-street meters also are lower than they should be in many cases, the report said.

The study has not yet been presented to the authority board, and the authority is under no obligation to implement the proposed rate changes.

"It is something we are only looking into at this point," Joanna Doven, spokeswoman for Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, said in an email.

Walker referred questions to David Onorato, authority executive director, who said he is reviewing the recommendations.

Parking rates have been an issue since 2010, when Mr. Ravenstahl proposed leasing parking assets to raise cash for a bailout of the city's pension fund. City council rejected the plan, which would have increased rates at garages, lots and meters. Council later passed a five-year schedule of meter increases as an indirect part of its own pension bailout.

The authority long has held down rates at its Downtown garages for economic development reasons. The rate increase proposed by Walker would narrow the gap between rates at authority-owned and privately owned garages, while giving the authority added revenue for capital projects and making more efficient use of parking resources, the consulting firm said in its report.

"The current pricing structure has the unintended consequence of putting visitors and employees, transient and monthly parkers in competition for the most convenient and often least expensive spaces. Meanwhile, other spaces in the system remain unoccupied," the firm said in its report.

But Mr. Onorato said he isn't convinced that motorists always seek out the least-expensive spots. There may not be enough difference between rates at core garages and those at outlying garages, such as Grant Street Transportation Center, he said, noting the less-costly transportation center has many unused spaces each day.

Walker studied rates for about a dozen garages and about 30 metered lots. Most garages and lots are owned by the authority. It also studied rates for about 7,000 on-street metered spaces owned by the city, not the authority.

Walker proposed two rate structures -- including an all-day rate, shorter-term day rates, and night, weekend and lease rates -- for each garage.

For example, the firm proposed that the all-day rate for Mellon Square garage, now $13.75, be increased to as much as $21 over a five-year period. The firm estimated that the current rate is about 25 percent below market.

The firm recommended that the all-day rate at the authority's Ninth Street/Penn Avenue garage, now $9.75, be increased to as much as $16 over five years. It estimated that the current rate is about 44 percent below market.

Even the Mon Parking Wharf, known for mud and occasional flooding, would be in line for a rate hike. Walker proposed that the wharf's $8 all-day rate be increased to as much as $12 over a five-year period. It said the wharf's current rate is about 44 percent below market.

Jeremy Waldrup, president and CEO of Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, said he had not yet talked with the authority about the study. He said he wants to keep parking affordable but understands the authority's need to generate money for capital projects that keep garages safe.

Nick Nicholas, a member of Market Square Merchants Association, said rate increases won't help to bring more people Downtown.

"We're starting to get Downtown a little more vibrant," he said, referring to a proliferation of restaurants and other businesses the past few years.

Under the legislation passed by council in December 2010, hourly on-street meter rates range from 50 cents in Carrick to $3 Downtown. A new round of rate increases will take effect in some neighborhoods Jan. 1 and in January 2015, but the top rate will remain $3 per hour through 2015.

The authority's consultant has recommended higher rates for on-street parking in some neighborhoods.

For example, it recommended that rates for Carrick meters be increased to as much as $1.25 next year and to $1.50 by 2022. It recommended that Downtown meters be increased to as much as $4.75 next year and to as much as $6.75 by 2022.

In addition, Walker recommended certain increases at off-street metered lots. The authority now charges $1 per hour at nearly every lot. The consultants recommended that the authority make a distinction between what it called "premium" and "non-premium" lots and adopt a separate rate structure for each classification. Rates would rise to as much as $4.25 at premium lots and $3 at non-premium lots.

neigh_city - Transportation

Joe Smydo: jsmydo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1548.


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