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Variable Meter Parking Rates Coming To Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- As part of their Act 47 financial recovery plan, City Council has approved a proposal from Councilman Corey O'Connor that could ultimately affect everyone who uses one of the city's new meters for parking -- varying the hourly rate in the same spot to attract more cars to park.

"It's just basically taking the adjustment, (say) from nine to noon you only have 10 cars. Well, if you adjust the rates to possibly 50 cents that hour, you can get a greater volume to use it, and then during high peak hours possibly raising rates a little bit to make that adjustment," O'Connor told KDKA money editor Jon Delano.

It's like a flexible meter rate.

It's called dynamic pricing.

What's that?

Well, how about adjusting the meter rate per hour depending on how busy the street is. In other words, during off-peak periods, how about lowering that hourly meter rate in order to attract more people to park.

Carnegie Mellon University is conducting a pilot project of the idea on several nearby streets.

"The study is about getting the prices of parking right," says Tepper Business School professor Mark Fichman.

Fichman, co-author of the study, says the goal is to get 80 percent occupancy, but always have an available spot.

"We've lowered the average price. It used to be $2 everywhere," he said. "And now some prices are a dollar, some are a $1.25, some are $1.50, some $2. And we've increased revenue by about 20 percent. Revenues are higher, the average price is lower, and the occupancy is higher. That's ideal."

PhD student Ben Towne, of Greenfield, says dynamic pricing only makes sense if people know the hourly rate before they park.

"If the idea is that people will make their decision based on the price, but they don't have the price information at the time they make the decision, then it kind of defeats the purpose," he said.

Fichman agrees -- and has a solution -- an app that would give you the street's hourly meter rate as you approached it.

None of this will happen soon, but it's closer than ever.

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