CMU professors help change street parking rates

Recently, a group of Carnegie Mellon professors petitioned the Pittsburgh City Council to change parking rates along Margaret Morrison Street, Tech Street, Frew Street, and Schenley Drive.

The rate for parking on Schenley Drive and Margaret Morrison Street is now 50 cents per hour, down from the previous $2 per hour. On Frew and Tech streets, the rate is now $2.25 per hour, a slight increase from the previous $2 per hour. The changes in parking rates will be accompanied by new signage that designates Margaret Morrison Street and Schenley Drive as “Economy Parking” and Tech Street and Frew Street as “Premium Parking.”

The project that led to the change in parking rates was headed by professor of economics Stephen Spear and associate professor of organizational behavior and theory Mark Fichman. According to Fichman, the change in parking rates is intended to facilitate the ideal parking usage for maximum revenue and convenience for students and professors alike.

“It just seemed like things were not working right, and we thought we know how it could be done better, and the city council was supportive of this idea,” Fichman said.

After parking rates on Margaret Morrison and other nearby streets increased last year, there was a surge in applications for on-campus parking, according to Fichman. This generated a long waitlist, while much of the street parking around campus remained largely empty.

Fichman considers the ideal utilization of the affected parking spaces to be 80 percent.

“That’s our goal. If it goes above 80, we raise the price to bring it back to 80; if it goes below 80 we lower the price until it gets back up to 80.”

Fichman cited SFpark, a project used to improve parking in San Francisco, as an inspiration for the plan to change parking rates at Carnegie Mellon.

Fichman also credits assistant professor of operations research and public policy at Heinz College Robert Hampshire for the idea.

According to SFpark’s website, the project “collect[s] and distribute[s] real-time information about where parking is available so drivers can quickly find open spaces. To help achieve the right level of parking availability, SFpark periodically adjusts meter and garage pricing up and down to match demand. Demand-responsive pricing encourages drivers to park in underused areas and garages.”

The rationalization behind the price adjustments at Carnegie Mellon was similar, Fichman said. “On a monthly basis we use data from the city. The city parking authority gives us a file with 20 to 30 thousand parking occasions — so where you parked and for how long — and we use that data to determine whether the capacity’s underutilized or overutilized and then send the parking authority a note saying we’d like to keep parking prices the way they are, or we’d like to change them in the following way. Then they make the changes, we see what happens, and so it continues.”

“If rates are too low, parking availability will be scarce, with low turnover throughout the business day. This creates a competition among commuters for parking spaces early in the day and presents real challenges throughout the day for individuals who need to park for an hour or two in order to attend a class, meeting or even make a delivery,” said Spear in a university press release.

“Rates that are too high will cause all drivers to avoid using these parking areas, which underutilizes a resource and ultimately lowers revenue.”

Becca Wolfinger, a sophomore electrical and computer engineering major who likes to park on or near campus, echoed Spear’s sentiments. “It’s beneficial to the school to have the parking spaces closer to campus lower in price; it makes it much easier for professors and students who live far from campus to get there and find somewhere to park.”

Fichman hopes that in the future Carnegie Mellon can adjust the parking rates for the parking garage and other parking lots on campus to reflect utilization of nearby street parking.

According to Fichman, the project seems to be working so far.

“The parking authority is, I think, feeling pretty good about what we’ve done. I think from their point of view they’re getting more revenue, and we’re establishing the idea that parking pricing can be managed in a way that is beneficial for everyone,” she said.