Thursday, January 22, 2009

Harrisburg's parking garage lease is ... well ... parked

So Harrisburg was one of two cities that Mayor Ravenstahl mentioned when he advanced the idea of leasing away Pittsburgh's City parking garages. Turns out that idea faltered in Harrisburg. The union representing garage employees didn't like the idea, and then the plan faltered and finally died in a conflict between their Mayor and city council. Sound familiar?

Bram and the Huddler(?) both talk about this idea a bit. I personally would feel a lot better about this idea if we had a Mayor I thought we could trust. Who would our Mayor be likely to pick, a civic minded firm that would hold only raise parking rates a dollar or two, to ensure a reasonable profit, or a firm that contributes to the Mayor's campaign? Parking rates would go up, just when people are feeling nervous about their jobs.

Meanwhile, what firm would commit to a seventy five or ninety nine year lease. Are we still going to be using cars in twenty five or fifty years? Even if we are, will downtown, knowledge based employees be going into an office every day, or will they be telecommuting, tele-meeting and maybe having a coffee with a client in a Squirrel Hill coffee shop?

I don't want to just opposed everything the Mayor proposes, but so far, he has given me little reason to do otherwise.


Lady Elaine said...

Did he learn nothing from Rendell in wanting to privatize the turnpike for 90 years?

Would the lease be rewritten every so often? How could he possibly foresee our economy and the value of the property in 50 years/70 years/90 years?

Privatization in most examples has proven time and time again to drive up costs, slow down customer service, and make it down right poor.

How will leasing the garages be any different?

The main issue is not the garages themselves, but the pensions.

It is too big to be handled by our city. Even leasing the garages and the inevitable raising of rates to follow will not generate enough money for the pensions.

It must be solved in Harrisburg. Too many other cities are experiencing the same problem and it is time Harrisburg does something.

And here's a novel idea. Why not look into lowering rates for the garages? I don't know about you, but I think the city is raping us with the money we have to pay to park.

EdHeath said...

Yeah, I think we absolutely can count on the rates going up if the City garages are transferred to private hands. But I can think of a couple of different points to make.

First, we do need the money for pensions. Yes, it would be good if Harrisburg would step up, but I don’t think we can count on them (based on the nothing they have dne so far).

Second, I think that if the County can get realistic, and offer better public transportation, we can start to eliminate the need for the garages.

So maybe we should look at selling the garages outright. Yes, the City will lose that million and a half of revenue each year, but maybe the hundred million or so of money that might go into the pension funds from the sale will reduce the yearly amount we have to stick in the pension fund there after (especially if new City workers go to a 401K type retirement plan, like the rest of us). Plus, as I speculated in my post, at some time in the near future fewer workers may have to go downtown for jobs, instead telecommuting from home, and meeting clients at establishments near where they live. So if we sell the City parking garages, they would become someone else’s problem when they start to lose customers.

By the way, Chris Briem (Null Space) has at least once had a post on how parking garages downtown are, during the day, about 98% filled. No garage operator, even at the City lots, would want to lower their rates. And that is, by the way, why privately owned garages did not lower their rates when the parking tax rate was reduced (I think the City was slow to lower rates, and did nt lower by as much as the tax went down). They wanted to make more money.

Lady Elaine said...

It will be a couple of decades at least before enough people are telecommuting to make a noticable difference in parking attendance downtown.

So, for right now, there are more jobs downtown than even just a few years ago! The reality is, you need parking for the forseeable future.

Already, half the workers downtown take transit to work. Both our transit and our parking systems are maxed out downtown, so the demand for both will only increase.

Privatizing will almost certainly lead to the end of the Parking Authority Union, at least in the long run. Eliminating yet another union in order to further drive down wages and eliminate pensions for still more workers is a page right out of Ronald Reagan's play book.

Not exactly a role model for Progressives, huh?

As for the pension system--I amend my remarks. Why not go further and lobby DC? We are facing now a $2 billion state deficit for the current fiscal year. This is a serious problem and cannot continue to be passed over for other projects.

Even under Luke's proposal, the city's pension plan would be hundreds of millions of dollars short. As for 401 K's--their performance is even worse than the pension plans!

Again, how does sticking it to the little guy meet Progressive's goals?

EdHeath said...

Well, Lady E, I agree with a lot of what you say, but I want to make one point.

First, though, and most important, I don’t see how the City garages are worth the two hundred million the Mayor is indicating he needs. Yes, you absolutely need parking for at least the near term future. Even if PAT doubled the number of buses available to downtown commuters and halved their fares, still there would be a lot of cars in town everyday (by the way, I don’t know if public transit is maxed out downtown, but clearly Onorato is not about to fund an expansion of PAT; we’ll be lucky if he leaves them alone for a while). I also don’t know if it will take two decades for telecommuting to have a significant effect on traffic, but whether you are selling garages or leasing them for 75 or 99 years, if parking is going to fall off significantly in two decades, that has to factor into your offer. As I say, I can’t see two hundred million.

If the garages were leased or sold, that would likely mean the beginning of the end for the Parking employee’s union. That’s not a very progressive thing to do, but who ever said the Mayor is a progressive.

But the point I want to make is that Pittsburgh would be in a better position to ask for money from the State or the Obama administration if we took some steps on our own. Sold the parking garages and used the money half for debt and half for pension funds. Privatized garbage collection or obtained contracts to collection garbage for our neighbors. Took police out of cars in the summer and put them on electric bikes. Installed a solar farm in one of the city parks. Something(s) to show we are seriously trying to save money so we can address our debt and pensions. We need to show (as a City) that we are not just demanding the State or the Feds solve the problems we created for ourselves (I know, debatable given our weird status in the State), we need to show good faith.

Lady Elaine said...

That we need to show we are trying to address our current debt problems, my friend, we both can agree on;)