Sunday, December 5, 2010

Student commuters find parking crackdown, prices ‘inconvenient’

Published in: The Globe
Originally published: November 30, 2010
By Kalea Hall and Katie Janicik 
Marissa Deasy says she "usually" has negative parking experiences.
As a commuter from Oakland, Leah Fox appreciates the shuttle services provided by Point Park University despite having negative experiences commuting.
Meagan Stroud, United Student Government press secretary (USG), said "USG is more than willing to do everything" they can to assist commuters.
"It's really inconvenient to be a commuter, but I do empathize [with the school] because what are they supposed to do? They can't just build a parking lot," said Fox, a junior Conservatory of Performing Arts major.
In an era when Pittsburgh is using parking as both a means of funding and as a form of punishment, there are numerous ways in which Point Park students can find a place to park without breaking their tight budgets.

During the month of October, the city of Pittsburgh cracked down on parking in the South Side by towing and ticketing several illegally parked cars. The crackdown has now ended, but nevertheless left its mark with 84 cars towed and 243 parking citations given just in the crackdown's first weekend.
In Downtown, the issue is not a matter of where a car can or cannot be parked, but how much it will cost to park that car and how much that cost will increase in the future. 
Currently, Pittsburgh City Council, alongside Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, is trying to use parking revenue to resolve the city's pension crisis.  The city must deposit over $200 million into the pension fund by Jan. 1, or a state takeover will occur. This means it does not matter where commuters park; it will still cost more.
If the state takeover occurs, the Pennsylvania Municipal Retirement System (PMRS) will gain control of the fund.  In a press release issued by the Mayor on Nov. 8, he stated that if the takeover occurs, Pittsburgh will be forced to make annual payments of up to $121 million to the fund, which is 40 percent of the city's yearly $450 million budget.
A state takeover will also affect the cost of the city's minimal municipal obligation (MMO) payments.  Currently, the city pays $45 million, but a state takeover means that by 2013 the minimum payment will almost double, equaling $86.3 million.  By 2017 the MMO payment will reach $127.3 million and by 2030 it will be $160 million.
In an attempt to avoid a takeover, Ravenshtal proposed a plan in which the city would privately lease its parking garages, lots and meters to Pittsburgh Parking Partners, LLC, which posted the winning bid of $452 million for a 50-year-lease on Sept. 21. 
Worried about losing billions of dollars and privatizing the city's assets, City Council nixed the Mayor's plan twice, once at a meeting on Oct. 19, and again a week later on Oct. 25.  
Mayor Ravenstahl presented the city's budget for 2011 on Nov. 8, when he criticized City Council for rejecting his plan and calling their vote for the city's Council-Controller plan irresponsible.
Under the Council-Controller plan, which was created by City Council and City Controller Michael Lamb, Pittsburgh would obtain the money to fund the pension by 50 percent by selling its assets to the Pittsburgh Parking Authority for $220 million.  The Parking Authority would have to finance bonds in order to pay for the assets, meaning parking rates would increase to pay off the bonds. 
The Council-Controller plan was approved by City Council; however, the Parking Authority Board voted it down because of the fact that they would have to purchase bonds, which would send them further into debt.
After re-constructing and voting to amend and hold a bill dealing with the city's parking assets and the pension fund crisis on Nov. 9, City Council decided to work on a compromise with Ravenstahl in the coming weeks.
Some student commuters are unhappy that the parking rates could be affected by the plan that is finally chosen to fix the ailing pension fund.
"It's a shame that we are being punished for the city not funding the pension. Now commuters have to pay for it," said Joe Stangl, junior electrical engineering major. 
Despite worries about an increase in parking rates, there are still cheap ways to park.
While the night and weekend rates for Parking Authority garages offer $5 parking after 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, the $5 flat rate also runs all day Saturday and Sunday. The garages vary in price for day rates, Monday through Friday, from 6 a.m. to 3:59 p.m.   The Fort Duquesne and Sixth Street, Ninth and Penn, and Wood-Allies Garages offer the best rates for garage parking at $3.75 for one hour or less, $4.75 for two hours or less, $7.50 for four hours or less, and $9.75 for 4-24 hours.  The Monongahela Warf offers parking all day for the price of $8 and is located just across Fort Pitt Boulevard from Point Park's campus, making it a viable option for student commuters. For more information on parking, visit the Pittsburgh Parking Authority website.
In the South Side, there are four street lots and one parking plaza that are operated by the Parking Authority. The street lots are located at 18th and Sidney Street (45 spaces), 12th and East Carson Street (35 spaces), 18th and Carson Street (44 spaces), and 19th and Carson (27 cars). The parking plaza is located at 20th and Sidney (80 spaces).  According to the Pittsburgh Parking Authority website, these street lots are unattended and "operate under a first come, first-served basis." The rates at these lots vary.
The South Side Works also offers "plenty of convenient parking" in four different garages, according to the South Side Works website. The Ingot Parking Garage, Hot Metal Parking Garage, and the Furnace Parking Garage are located at 28th Street and Sidney. The Ladle Parking Garage is located at 26th Street and Sidney. All of the garages offer the same rates, which range from $3 for one hour and go up to $15 for 12 to 24 hours. After 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and all day Saturday and Sunday, parking in the South Side Works is $1.00 per hour up to a maximum of $3, according to the South Side Works website.
One alternative to the City's parking garages that is popular among student commuters is Station Square's West Lot, located just off of the West Carson Street.  If students park in the lot before 10 a.m., the price is $5 for an entire day.  In addition to the low price, commuters have the option of taking a shuttle across the Smithfield Street Bridge, from Station Square to Downtown between the hours of 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.  Point Park's Office of Commuter Affairs provides additional shuttles to the lot Monday through Thursday between the hours of 9:15 p.m. and 10:15 p.m. for commuters who have night classes.
"If [students] have day … classes, they usually park in the Station Square lot," said Sarah George, director of Commuter Affairs at Point Park.  "If they are coming for night classes, then [they] usually park on the street, which is free after 6 p.m." 
The Station Square Garage, located in Station Square right off of West Carson Street, offers discounted leases for Point Park students.  The leases, which are $80 per month, can be obtained through The Office of Student Activities, or through Sarah George in the Commuter Affairs office on the 7th floor of the Student and Convocation Center. 
The ALCO Parking Corporation owns and operates a garage on the North Shore at 20 East General Robinson Street.  The price is $3 for up to two hours, $6 for two to four hours, and $8 for up to 24 hours. 
Toward the Hill District, the Mellon Arena offers their lots to commuters.  The Arena's North and South lots have a flat rate of $7 a day while the East lot is $6, the West Lot is $7.75 and the Melody Lot is $5.75 daily.
ALCO Parking Corporation also manages various parking lots located in Pittsburgh's Strip District, including the Lower Pennsylvania Lot, the Convention Center Garage, the Eleventh and Smallman Lot, the Fifteenth and Smallman Lot and the Cork Factory Garage.  The Fifteenth and Smallman Lot, located on the corner of Fifteenth Street and Smallman Street, offers the best daily rate for parking in a Strip lot in at $6 daily; it even offers commuters a free shuttle to and from Downtown.
With parking rates already costly and the future of the City's lots and garages uncertain, many students are wondering if Point Park will step in to help its commuters.
"I choose to take the shuttle because it is so expensive to park Downtown," said Marissa Deasy, a junior elementary education major who commutes from Oakland. "I do park on the street for … night classes."
Deasy said to improve the commuter experience at Point Park, Deasy would like to see shuttles run after 6 p.m. on Monday nights and follow a "consistent shuttle schedule during the day."
Other students wish Point Park would provide commuters with a parking garage or parking passes. 
"You should be able to buy a Point Park parking pass," Fox said. "I do [understand  though]; where [is the school] supposed to put [a parking garage] and with their huge environmentally friendly thing, I understand them not wanting us to drive cars."
Fox used to commute to Downtown for class, but now takes advantage of the shuttle services because of her negative parking experiences.
"I paid $8.00 one time to park in the Boulevard of the Allies parking lot [deck], and then I got a flat tire in there. That ruined my week," Fox said.
Even though commuters would like to see a parking garage built on Point Park's campus soon, the chances of that happening are slim.
"Right now, the administration is not interested in purusing a parking garage.  It would be time intensive and expensive," George said.
The United Student Government (USG) believes they are currently doing all that they can to help student commuters with the cost of parking.
"USG currently assists commuters and resident students by subsidizing 25% of the cost of the bus passes in the book store," Stroud said.  "We are very interested in continuing this program, but will need to re-examine its feasibility due to the pending increase in bus fares."            
With USG's help, students can buy monthly Zone 1 bus passes for $60 instead of the Port       Authority's price of $80. However, their plans do not include taking steps to give commuters more parking options.
"USG has received numerous concerns regarding parking for students over the years. However, adding parking for students would be a massive undertaking that would need to be taken on by the University, not just USG," Stroud said. 
The main problem with building or purchasing a garage specifically for students is the funding such an endeavor would require. 
"I can say with a good deal of confidence that there is little chance that the university would be able to allocate the necessary financial resources to such a huge project," said Ian Sulkowski, a sophomore creative writing major and member of the Student Concerns Committee. 
However, Sulkowski said there have been multiple instances in which students have approached the committee about building or buying a garage designated specifically for Point Park students and faculty. Given the city's recent events with the pension crisis and plans to lease the city's parking assets or increase parking fees, parking may soon become a higher priority at the university.
"The ever-increasing shift towards privatization is something vastly beyond Point Park," Sulkowski said.  "Rather than questioning the university's administration for a parking garage, perhaps we should be challenging the mayor's decision to privatize parking. It's ludicrous that at a time when Downtown is more in need of parking than ever, those in charge have decided it is a privilege only for the wealthy."

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