Pittsburgh parking enforcement decision is delayed
City councilman's commitment to bailout questioned
December 13, 2012 10:00 AM
One of the city's new parking meters.
By Joe Smydo Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pittsburgh City Council on Wednesday postponed a decision on nighttime parking enforcement after an acrimonious debate in which members accused Councilman Bill Peduto of politicking, favoring the city's wealthy communities and retreating from his commitment to a pension bailout.
On Jan. 2, under an existing law, enforcement of on-street meters will be extended four hours, until 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday, in seven neighborhoods: Downtown; on the North Shore and South Side; and in Oakland, Shadyside, the Strip District and Squirrel Hill. There is no Sunday enforcement.
Mr. Peduto introduced legislation to keep the citywide enforcement cutoff at 6 p.m. six days a week, saying expanded enforcement would hurt local businesses. A half-dozen business owners and representatives of business groups turned out to support the legislation, but council voted to hold the bill one week.
Members said they wanted to study the financial impact of foregoing additional meter revenue and fine revenue.
Council President Darlene Harris said Mr. Peduto, who plans to challenge Mayor Luke Ravenstahl next year, is "trying to make brownie points" and be a "good-deed doer," in the run-up to next year's mayoral race.
"I'm not running for mayor, and I don't need to try to get people's votes for mayor," Mrs. Harris said.
Councilman Ricky Burgess said Mr. Peduto's proposal to prevent nighttime meter enforcement amounts to preferential treatment for some of the city's wealthier neighborhoods.
In December 2010, city council passed a five-year schedule of meter rate increases -- and approved nighttime enforcement in the seven neighborhoods -- as an indirect part of a pension bailout. The first rate increases and the nighttime enforcement provisions took effect in June 2011.
However, amid complaints from businesses and motorists, along with council's disagreements with the parking authority over revenue-sharing and the pace of a meter modernization program, council quickly suspended nighttime enforcement until January 2013.
Now that the authority has replaced thousands of single-space meters, which accepted only quarters, with multi-space metering devices, which accept quarters and credit cards, Mrs. Harris believes it would be appropriate to adhere to the December 2010 plan. The revenue generated by added enforcement would help to offset the loss of parking tax money that council dedicated to the pension bailout for 31 years.
By trying to halt nighttime enforcement, Mr. Peduto is retreating from his commitment to the pension bailout, Mrs. Harris said. "We all said we're not going to poke holes in this," Mrs. Harris said of the bailout plan.
The discussion involves on-street meters, not metered lots that already are subject to nighttime enforcement.
The city owns the on-street meters, and the city parking authority operates them. The authority keeps about 90 percent of meter revenue and gives the rest to the city. The city keeps the lion's share of fine revenue.
Council and the authority have squabbled over whether a higher percentage of meter revenue should flow to the city in future years. Until the authority agrees to give the city more meter revenue, Mr. Peduto said, nighttime enforcement enriches the authority while doing little to help the city's finances.
Business owners predicted that nighttime enforcement would send more customers to the suburbs. "We know how they're going to react. They're going to react with their feet," said Kevin Joyce, owner of The Carlton, Downtown, who worried about parking enforcement officers "harassing our guests when they're a minute over" their time limit.
David Wasieleski, a representative of Shadyside Action Coalition, said nighttime enforcement would prompt visitors to try to snag a free space on crowded residential streets.
"That could also increase the noise and litter issues residents continually deal with," he said.