Pittsburgh City Council made the right call Tuesday in voting to raise fines for parking violations because the higher prices will bring in desperately needed revenue -- $4 million on top of the $5.6 million in the 2010 budget.
Some fines had not been increased in 20 years and evidence of their ineffectiveness shows up in the fact that, in some parts of Downtown, it is cheaper to park at an expired meter and pay the $16 fine than to pay the all-day rate at a nearby garage. Who wouldn't take the risk that the meter reader might pass by without issuing a ticket?
Once Mayor Luke Ravenstahl signs off on the changes adopted by council and the new rates go into effect, the fine for parking at an expired meter Downtown and in Oakland will jump from $16 to $30, while expired meter fines in other neighborhoods will go up from $11 to $20. Fees for parking in residential districts without permits will go from $35 to $45 and parking illegally during street cleaning will increase from $15 to $25.
Even with the increases, Pittsburgh's fines are lower than the averages in Baltimore, Buffalo, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Seattle and Portland, Ore.An added bonus will be if the higher penalties push more all-day parkers into lots and garages, leaving short-term, metered spaces available for shoppers and visitors to city business districts.
The Pittsburgh Parking Authority uses the income from the meters to pay for 19 full-time and 17 part-time enforcement officers who patrol metered lots and streets as well as residential districts citywide. The city could boost its income from parking violations even higher if council would change the rules, which stop enforcement at 6 p.m. for parking at metered spaces on city streets -- five hours earlier than the 11 p.m. cut-off for ticketing in its surface parking lots. Evening patrons at restaurants and bars in the South Side, North Side, Shadyside and other places are an untapped market.
Expanding that enforcement is the next step, even as the city awaits proposals from private groups hoping to win a long-term lease to operate city-owned garages and parking spaces. That proposal is expected to bring in upwards of $200 million to bolster the city pension funds, but there's no reason to pass on the smaller sums that appropriate enforcement and higher fines can bring as well.