During a half-hour of questioning by borough councilmembers last week, Bridgeville’s parking authority explained why they recently ended their longstanding practice of allowing free parking after 6 p.m., and why some visitors now have to pay for two-and-a-half hours of parking, even if they’ll only be in Bridgeville for 15 minutes.
The short answer: Consumer patterns have changed over the years. These days, Bridgeville’s publicly owned parking lots are busier during dinner hours than they are at lunchtime. To adjust for this new reality, and to ensure the parking authority’s long-term economic viability, enforcement were moved from hours from 9 AM – 6 PM to 10 AM – 8 PM.
Moving forward, people who pay for their parking with actual coins will be required to buy at least one hour of parking at the rate of $1 per hour. People who pay with a credit card or with parking authority’s app must purchase at least 2.5 hours of parking for $2.50 regardless of how long they’ll actually be using the lot. Each additional hour is $1.
That’s a 150% increase for people who pay with the app, and a 25% increase for people who pay with a card.
Borough councilman Joe Verduci, who attended the meeting along with some council colleagues, wanted to know why the authority increased those mandatory minimum rates, especially at time when some borough businesses are struggling to recover from the pandemic.
The parking authority’s 5-minutes-long response was too subtle and nuanced to do it justice in print, but you can watch below:
This mini-controversy began back in April, when the parking authority quietly decided to alter its parking policies to better “capture revenue as of result of… changing [parking] patterns.” However, the authority apparently didn’t tell local businesses about this plan until it was already approved.
In April, parking authority manager Joe Solomon said that authority employees would “visit each business to let them know what we are doing, and how it will help them, as well as help us.”
Last week, after visiting 73 businesses, the result was that “[business owners] didn’t like it, but they understood that we need to do what we need to do,” said one parking authority employee.
The authority’s only effort to notify residents was when it changed a few words on its webpage to reflect the new policies.
“It was on the website the first of June,” said parking authority manager Joe Solomon. “That’s how we communicate basically—the website.”
If defense of the parking authority, though, they are not obligated to tell anybody when they decide to make parking more expensive. Bridgeville borough council appoints the parking authority’s members to five-year terms. But aside from that, the parking authority operates independently of council, residents, the local business community, and everybody else in Bridgeville.
Solomon suggested that the parking authority has actually been doing Bridgeville a favor for the past 16 years by allowing free parking between 6 p.m. and 2 a.m., but that had to change.
“It was 16 years on scholarship, basically,” he said. “We’ve been giving back to the community year after year, which is what we do.”
But more recently, local restaurants restaurants’ lunch crowds are “nonexistent” Solomon said, while the dinner hours are busier: “We felt it was time for us to have that 6 to 8 period. We need the help now.”
The changes won’t impact local restaurants, because some of those places “are charging Pittsburgh prices in Bridgeville… and that’s fine,” Solomon said. It was unclear if he was taking that position on behalf of the parking authority, or quoting a third party.
Bridgeville is a tiny town and news gets around fast—sometimes. In this case, some borough councilmembers didn’t learn of the parking policy changes until early June, when they received the parking authority’s April meeting minutes.
The news raised many questions:
- Was this going to hurt local businesses?
- Do local businesses even know about this?
- Why was this all kept so quiet?
- Is the parking authority in financial trouble?
So last week, Verduci, William Henderson, Nicholas Ciesielski, and several other councilmembers went to the parking authority’s meeting looking for answers.
The meeting started with 10 minutes of pointed questions from Verduci, who tried to get a clear understanding about the thinking behind the parking authority’s decision.
Council president William Henderson followed up by urging increased cooperation between the parking authority and council.
Near the 22 minute-mark, councilman Nicholas Ciesielski tried to impress upon the authority how parking policy has a real impact on local businesses. Creating too many obstacles for potential customers can hurt business, and that is bad for everybody, he said.
Authority members didn’t have much to say in response to Ciesielski’s soft-spoken plea for cooperation, but they sure had something to say to the next person on the mic.
Former mayor Pat DeBlasio—who owns a local accounting firm—took a more aggressive tact than the previous speakers. He said that the parking authority’s policies give people one more reason to avoid Bridgeville and instead go to nearby shopping centers where they don’t have to worry about feeding parking kiosks and paying fines.
Bridgeville should strive to make itself friendlier to outsiders by offering free short-term parking, DeBlasio said. Any lost revenue could be made up through other revenue sources. Instead, the authority has doubled-down on its policy of extracting money from business patrons a dollar at a time.
DeBlasio questioned the authority’s priorities. Each year, he said, the parking authority’s biggest expense is employee salaries—paying staffers to collect fines and fees so that the authority can continue to pay staffers to collect fines and fees.
“Your biggest cost is not asphalt or snow removal,” DeBlasio said. “It’s to pay people to write tickets for our customers. That’s who gets the abuse… It’s not the money, it’s the inconvenience. Our competition at the shopping centers do not have that inconvenience.”
And that’s when this unusual meeting got flat-out weird.
The parking authority largely ignored the substance of DeBlasio’s comments and instead responded with wisecracks and derisive comments.
Authority member Richard McElhoes said that if DeBlasio’s customers don’t like paying for parking, he should pay for their fines himself.
Joe Solomon said that the parking authority is working on a plan to improve Bridgeville’s parking situation, but that he would not share that information with DeBlasio “because you’re not a restauranteur.“
Do you remember how rough it used to be for the guest hosts on The Muppet Show?
Each week, John Denver or Dolly Parton or some actual human being would try to deliver straight-forward dialogue while surrounded by a gaggle of muppets shouting, cracking bad jokes, swinging from chandeliers, and crashing through drum kits.
If you can recall the exasperation on Kenny Rogers’ face as he tried to get straight answers from Gonzo and Scooter while Fozzie Bear shouted “waka waka waka” and Waldorf and Statler made wisecracks from the balcony, then you already have a fairly accurate mental image of how the rest of the meeting played out.
And that’s your parking authority report, folks.