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Pittsburgh Parking Authority could soon issue tickets by mail

A Pittsburgh residential street parking permit sign and street cleaning schedule sign.
Jakob Lazzaro
90.5 WESA

Update on March 6, 2024: Pittsburgh City Council preliminarily approved a measure to allow the parking authority to issue tickets by mail Wednesday. The matter is expected to come before council for a final vote next week.

Original story published Feb. 28, 2024: The Pittsburgh Parking Authority could soon begin ticketing parking offenders by mail. A bill introduced to Pittsburgh City Council Tuesday would allow the authority to mail tickets to the registered vehicle owner, rather than requiring meter readers to leave a notice on the windshield.

It’s a policy change the Parking Authority has long championed, according to David Onorato, the executive director of the city’s Public Parking Authority. He called it “an additional option to make us more efficient” and modern, noting other parking authorities across the country use a mailed ticket system.

The system could speed up how often parking attendants pass through a neighborhood, which would be a boon to the authority whose staffing numbers have dwindled since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Onorato said the authority had around 44 parking enforcement officers in 2019, but today that number has decreased to two dozen.

“I know it’s not unique to us,” Onorato said of the staffing shortage. “Agencies and employers are … having difficulties maintaining and hiring new staff.”

With fewer people to administer tickets, Onorato said saving the time spent getting out of the vehicle to fill out a ticket could go a long way toward covering the gap.

But beyond efficiency, Onorato said his main goal is to make the job safer for parking attendants, especially as the city increases nighttime parking enforcement in busier neighborhoods. “It’s a safety concern with the new parking enhancement districts that we’re doing,” Onorato said.

With tickets by mail, parking attendants wouldn’t have to get out of their vehicle and interact with the public at night, he said. That means fewer tense interactions between parking attendants and parking violators in nighttime entertainment districts like Lawrenceville and the South Side.

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City Councilor Bob Charland, whose district includes the South Side Flats, said the change was “long overdue.” In recent years, the parking authority has required a police escort for parking attendants working in the Flats due to an increase in violent crime in along East Carson Street.

But Charland said that while he agrees that parking attendants should feel safe, the change has meant little to no parking enforcement in the South Side Flats, which has angered residents there. While the city’s dwindling police force has emphasized dedicating officers to crimes more serious than parking violations, that has meant fewer police escorts to cover residential streets in the South Side, Charland said.

“We don't have parking enforcement unless the enforcement agents are escorted by police officers, which means that we have less enforcement because we clearly have a police shortage,” he said.

And while visitors may benefit from fewer tickets, residents in the neighborhood find themselves without space to park near their homes despite paying for an annual parking permit. The permit is designed to give residents more parking close to home, but without more visitor vehicle turnover, that hasn’t been the case, according to Charland.

“We’re paying for a service that we're not receiving,” he said.

Last fall, the parking authority tested mail enforcement in two city lots. Onorato said cameras allowed the authority to ticket vehicles beyond the authority’s capacity to staff overnights, and he saw a change within three weeks.

“Once we did it, we saw the compliance of people paying the meter and tickets going down,” Onorato said.

Khari Mosley, who sponsored the legislation, said the mail-in system also improved how soon people paid their parking tickets, which means fewer late penalties for the public.

“They found that not only were people paying their tickets, but they were paying the tickets before the actual fees were increased,” he said.

Those more timely payments also meant less need for boot enforcement, in which a metal clamp is attached to a car wheel to prevent it from moving until parking fees are paid.

The bill was introduced Tuesday, which means the soonest council could take up the matter is next week.

Onorato said a full rollout hasn’t been drawn up yet, but the authority would focus on districts with dynamic street parking first, then deploy the technology in surface lots before a broader citywide rollout. That means, should the bill pass, parking offenders can still expect tickets on their windshields in the short term.

“The process that we're giving tickets out today will not go away for most people,” he said.

Kiley Koscinski covers city government, policy and how Pittsburghers engage with city services. She also works as a fill-in host for All Things Considered. Kiley has previously served as a producer on The Confluence and Morning Edition.