Pittsburgh City Council urged to lower Oakland parking rates

CMU professor urges that rates vary during the year, depending on usage

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The hourly rate for on-street parking in part of Oakland could drop by $1 in January as Pittsburgh continues to wrestle with the question of how much to charge for parking.

Councilman Bill Peduto introduced a resolution Monday that would set up a year-long pilot project involving Carnegie Mellon University, the parking authority and Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens.

The immediate goal is to identify the hourly rate that achieves 80 percent utilization of spaces around CMU and the conservatory. Mr. Peduto said he wants the city eventually to adopt a "dynamic pricing" model in which with the cost of parking varies by time of day and day of the week, according to demand.

"I am excited to see the results of this study and to take what we learn and apply it to other areas of the city," Mr. Peduto said in a statement.

Mark Fichman, associate professor of organizational behavior and theory at CMU, said the study area will encompass Frew, Margaret Morrison and Tech streets and part of Schenley Drive.

In January, the cost of an hour's on-street parking in that area increased to $2, up from $1 last year. That's when Mr. Fichman noticed a sharp drop in daily use of those spaces -- a sign, he said, that drivers didn't want to pay that much or weren't carrying an adequate supply of quarters.

"There was nobody parking," he said.

Mr. Fichman said use of spaces on Frew and Tech picked up in recent months when the authority replaced single-space meters, which accepted only quarters, with multi-space pay stations that accept quarters or credit cards. But he said use of spaces on Margaret Morrison and Schenley Drive remains low.

On-street metered spaces are enforced from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. There is no shortage of parkers on Sunday, when on-street parking is free.

Mr. Fichman has proposed that the Monday-through-Saturday rate on Margaret Morrison and part of Schenley Drive drop to $1 per hour in January. He and Stephen Spear, CMU professor of economics, would monitor usage of spaces on those streets.

If many spaces remain unused, the rate would drop some more. But if the $1 decrease creates a mad competition for spaces, the rate would be pushed up again, Mr. Fichman said. The goal would be to identify a rate that achieves a consistent 80 percent utilization of parking spaces.

During the study period, the price of parking could change as often as every month, partly because demand for parking fluctuates. For example, demand drops in the summer and increases when students return for the fall term, Mr. Fichman said.

Parking rates have been a hotly debated topic since 2010 when Mayor Luke Ravenstahl proposed leasing parking garages, meters and metered lots to generate money for a pension bailout.

Council voted down that plan, partly because of concern about rate increases that would be included in the deal. Council then passed a five-year schedule of meter increases as an indirect part of its own bailout. Those increases in various neighborhoods, including Oakland, began taking effect in 2011.

But the debate over parking rates continued. Walker Parking Consultants last summer provided the parking authority with a parking rate study that recommended increases for parking garages, on-street metered spaces and metered neighborhood lots. The study has not yet been presented to the authority board.

Walker's proposed increases for on-street spaces varied by neighborhood. The recommendations were tied to the price of off-street parking in the respective neighborhoods.

neigh_city - Transportation - electionsmunicipal

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


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