Untitled, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from minusbaby’s photostream

On Thursday, Pittsburgh City Council voted to suspend nighttime parking meter enforcement, but only for the next six months. Requiring drivers to pay to park after 6:00 PM, of course, discourages people from shopping, dining and seeking out entertainment in the city when they can not only park for free at a mall or suburban theater, but not worry about potential fines for going over the limit. That’s why Councilman Peduto had asked that after-6 PM enforcement be permanently suspended. The city had extended parking enforcement hours until 10:00 PM back in 2010, but had to quickly rescind those hours due to an outcry from the public.

All of this goes back to our city’s pension woes and an attempt to generate more revenue through increasing both the meter costs and the hours. Pittsburgh managed to dodge a bullet when we did not take a deal to lease our meters as Chicago did. The Chicago deal has been roundly criticized by, well, everyone. As many bad transactions go, it started with a lack of any transparency — much of the documentation on the bidding has still never seen the light of day. The lease agreement is for 75 years, but most of that money has already been spent by Chicago as the value of the leased meters was woefully underestimated. Now, after rates have gone up five years in a row, Chicago is set to have the most expensive parking rates in North America.

The Mayor’s parking meter privatization plan for Pittsburgh would have been done with the same entities involved in Chicago’s infamous deal. The plan would have resulted in a loss of over $2 billion in revenue over the life of the lease.

But, back to here and now. What of the extra revenue that nighttime parking was supposed to generate and how does this relate to the pensions, you may ask. The increased nighttime parking revenue was not going to the pensions — it was going to the operating budget to make up for the loss from the “Parking Tax.” (Council could vote to extend meter enforcement 24/7, or they could vote to make parking free 24/7 and it still wouldn’t relate to the pensions.) The real problem is that the Parking Authority never increased their payments to the city which was part of the plan. As far as any lost nighttime revenue from meters and fines that would be going to our operating budget, the answer is to focus on getting the parking authority to revamp and improve their system so that they can extract more revenue and pay the City as they should have been for the past two years. It’s not to punish the small business owners of Pittsburgh and to drive traffic out of the town (no pun intended).