Friday, November 19, 2010

Tom Purcell: On Meter Maids and Democrats

As we contemplate the impact of the disbanding and absorption of the parking authority into the municipality, Mt. Lebanon native Tom Purcell's article "On Meter Maids and Democrats" from three years ago raises some interesting points about our parking authority that are relevant to what is going on in Mt. Lebanon today.

Tom's web site:

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share


Anonymous Bob Reich, Jr. said...

Truer words were never written. It all boils down to one thing - the lack of good old fashioned common sense. Where did it go?

November 20, 2010 10:39 AM  
Anonymous John Kendrick said...

It's with the $8MM !!!!

November 20, 2010 12:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Parking Authority remains financially solvent primarily only through parking fines and meter revenues. When debt service is directly applied, they lose money on the 2 garages and the new Academy Ave. lot.

This might partially explain why enforcement is strict. To be fair, however, the public tends to play games on parking, and the meter enforcement people have heard all the pleadings, all the excuses too many times...from the likes of Tom Purcell, some of you and me.

Bill Lewis

November 21, 2010 9:51 AM  
Anonymous David Brown said...

Purcell's article does not back up the statement that is the linchpin of his argument:

"The Democrats will unwittingly unleash a legion of federal meter maids who will regulate, monitor and punish -- and unwittingly accomplish the opposite of whatever they were hired to accomplish."

Can anyone explain how the presence of the meter maid unwittingly causes a decrease in voluntary parking law observance?

Since Purcell hand waves that part, the parallel he draws to Democratic policies similarly fails.

November 22, 2010 1:05 AM  
Blogger James Fraasch said...

For one, I give you three letters:


November 22, 2010 8:43 AM  
Anonymous Rich W said...

TSA appears to be somewhat party-neutral. But still corrupt nonetheless. As they say, follow the money... you'll find lobbyists from both parties involved in this fiasco.

As for TP, he's a friend and we joke about the parking situation and how the metermaid seems to appear out of nowhere right as the meter time runs out, but as business owners here on Wash. Rd., we get the need for enforcement (and the dollars).

November 22, 2010 10:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To correct a couple of my earlier comments about parking rates and fines, which Tom Purcell's article made me realize and an *insider* reminded me about :

1)meter fine rates have just been increased from what had been $6 to now $10; and,

2)fine rates for exceeding the 2 hour limit on meters and for not parking completely within the designated dimensional areas of a parking stall (space) have increased from $10 to now $15 by the Parking Authority; and,

3)the Authority decisions for such increases were made prior to and independent of the pending *takeover* decision by the Commission....but the new Chairman infers otherwise; and,

4)the delay in implementing the ticket fine increases was worse than I seems the initial, but late, ticket printing order to reflect the increased fines ended up with the old fine rates being a *rush* cost premium reorder had to be made. The new fines were to go into effect on July 1st.....I think they finally did so using the corrected tickets sometime in October.

And people wonder how the widely used expression "Good enough for government work" came about ?

Bill Lewis

November 22, 2010 10:32 AM  
Blogger James Fraasch said...


I don't recall either Chertoff or Ridge giving the directive to pat down 8 year old boys as a security measure at airports.

Purcells point obviously was not meant to apply just to meter maids but to government as a whole. One could easily argue that the additional attention paid to a harmless, helpless 8 year old boy would be better paid to an actual potential threat.

My response was to Dave's question about how the presence of more government regulation could end up having the opposite effect on the stated policy.

Does patting down 8 year old boys (or any other clear non-threat that has made the news the last week) actually make us safer when we fly? Or does the extra attention afforded these harmless people make us less safe by directing resources where they do not need to be directed and away from where they should be?


November 22, 2010 12:12 PM  
Anonymous Rich W said...

Not to threadjack, but as you brought up TSA, my point was simple: Lobbyists run the government, not the other way around. Money doesn't have a party.

Not going to get into more on this thread as it's got zip to do with parking.

I'm with you in that I'm happy the Feds aren't running the municipality.

November 22, 2010 1:16 PM  
Anonymous Bob Reich, Jr. said...

Your comment made perfect sense to me, James. I don't see the disconnect Rich W. somehow experienced. I do find it stunning, though, that a business owner on Washington Road sees the need for both enforcement and "the dollars". Perhaps it is his contention that all those monies collected help hold the line on our modest tax rates?

Thought these were funny...

Happy Thanksgiving!

November 22, 2010 1:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting that the comments and column focuses on Democrats. As a reminder friends, it is a majority Republican School Board AND a majority Republican Commission that pushed a $113m project through (school board) and gave its blessing to such project (the commission vote two weeks ago on the parking issue) that "paved" the way for the project. As a once proud Mt. Lebanon Republican, I am equally appalled by the Democrat way as I am the NEW "Mt Lebanon" Republican way.

Stuart Getz

PS - to make matters worse, the Chairman of the Mt. Lebanon Republican Committee voted for it! LOL.

November 22, 2010 2:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have taken a much needed blog break, but can hold back no longer. I went to Aldo Coffee last week and parked at a meter which I SWEAR had 1 hr 5 on the clock. It was about 10:15. I had a great cup of coffee and came out to a parking ticket written at 10:29! I just can’t win. With all due respect, that meter maid works hard, but she is amazingly like Robocop. I swear she can hear a meter click four miles away! One time she tried to ticket me as I pulled into a space to pay my ticket at the yellow “courtesy box” because it was the only spot nearby. Now, that was ironic – getting a ticket for paying a ticket! BTW, is it true Trader Joe’s picked USC over Lebo?– Charlotte Stephenson

November 22, 2010 3:40 PM  
Anonymous John Kendrick said...


Don't let a few RINO's distort your perception of the party. Many years ago the internal struggle within our party was to take control away from the Rockefeller Republicans.

Today, we are fighting a similar fight - except that the Rockefeller Republicans have been replaced by the liberal RINO's that drape themselves in our flag and call themselves, "Compassionate Conservatives."

Be patient, the best days are yet to come! ;)

November 22, 2010 9:39 PM  
Anonymous David Brown said...

If people have a problem paying for parking, that's one thing, though it's kind of hard to take from people who on other occasions champion law and order, personal responsibility, and finding alternate sources of municipal income.

But to twist it into some sort of proof of government inefficiency is clearly incorrect, because what you all are really complaining about is the meter maid's efficiency. You are irritated because she is doing her job so well.

You should be praising her. This is clearly an example of the kind of government performance we should all want: diligent, efficient, and effective. The only people who could turn that into a problem are the ones who will never admit government can ever do anything well under any circumstances, and that's just too extreme for my taste.

I think we can all agree that if the parking authority made the rules hard to understand and easy to break with harsh consequences, changed the rules constantly, and issued fraudulent tickets in the hopes people would just give up and pay them, all to increase revenue, that would be an outrage, and we all would have a legitimate reason to take up torches and pitchforks. But the main place I see that kind of behavior is actually from corporations. I'm glad there will be federal meter maids policing their behavior in addition to local parking regulations.

I'm getting sick of hearing how business is always right, by definition, and government is always wrong, by definition. Reality is far more complicated, so any philosophy that is so simple can be dismissed prima facie. It's disheartening to see how much play that sort of idea gets in a community that so prides itself on its level of education.

November 23, 2010 2:27 AM  
Blogger Tom Moertel said...


The meter maid isn’t offered as “proof” but as a metaphor. Her ruthless ticketing represents the government’s focus on its own interests rather than the people’s. What started out as a way to ensure that people could find convenient, short-term parking has grown into a means for the government to extract additional money from the public by way of enforcement that is strict beyond need.

Business isn’t always right, nor is government always wrong, but sometimes that’s the way it is. Both business leaders and government leaders have an interest in trying to reward themselves. In business, market forces help to keep those rewards reasonable (at least where business leaders haven’t been able to get the government to favorably distort the market for them, as on Wall Street). In government, however, those forces don’t exist, so it’s easier to build up sheltered fiefdoms that over time lose touch with their original goals and come to serve themselves.

The TSA, for example, started out as a good idea. Over time, though, it has become a bureaucracy whose main product is security theater, not real security. Its byproducts are fear, economic loss, inconvenience for travelers, and increased car accidents, not to mention a marked decrease in civil liberties. While security is in the public interest, fake security that comes at great cost is not.

Over the years, most other government “good ideas” turn into self-serving bureaucracies, too. Think of the federal entitlement programs. It’s hard to see how becoming financially insolvent on the national level is in the people’s interest. It’s also hard to see how the market could have done worse than these programs.

So, yes, business isn’t always right, nor is government always wrong. But when government is wrong, it’s wrong. And when we can reasonably expect the market to do better, we ought to let it.


November 23, 2010 11:18 AM  
Anonymous Bob Reich, Jr. said...

Nice try, David. But the issue isn't whether or not government (or, again, the people that work for the government and therefore work for us) do "anything right". The issue is the general lack of common sense that exists at every level of government these days. The same technology in the fancy new meters that allows one to see that a meter is expired could also employ a mechanism that shows how overdue a car is and then it would be up to the discretion (common sense) of the meter maid as to whether or not leave an actual ticket or just a warning to pony up soon or she is going to get you on her next pass. I like to think that one of the appeals of living in a community or even a region like Pittsburgh (as opposed to the oft maligned New York or other huge metropolitan area) is the notion that some semblance of decency still exists. The vast majority of people parking at a meter are not doing so for the long haul. They are obviously very nearby shopping in a store where the proceeds of their purchase are also taxed which also results in revenue to the municipality. Ticket them one too many times and they may decide, as most do anyways, that the free parking at the Galleria or Village is more their style. Business owners on Washington Road or Beverly Road, in general, have it rough enough in this economy. We should be doing more to encourage residents to shop there, not give them reasons to go elsewhere.

November 23, 2010 11:35 AM  
Anonymous David Brown said...

When I pay a parking fine, I console myself by remembering that we will pay less taxes somewhere else. Why does it have to be any harder than that?

November 23, 2010 9:10 PM  
Anonymous Bob Reich, Jr. said...

If you can cite evidence to prove your statement please do so. In fact, if you can cite ANY evidence in Mt. Lebanon history where a tax has been either taken away or the rate lowered after the fact I'll happily pay your next parking fine. Otherwise, with all due respect, I have to think you may be delusional. Happy Thanksgiving, though.....

November 23, 2010 9:33 PM  
Blogger Tom Moertel said...


What you don’t seem to be considering is the possibility that government policies, even those created with the best of intentions, can cost the people more than they benefit them, even after accounting for all collections (including your fine).

You can’t judge policies by considering only their intended and obvious effects; you must consider all of their effects. And when you do, you’re likely to discover that many government policies can be seen to do more harm than good.

Are you at least open to the possibility?


November 23, 2010 11:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sent a friend Rich W's link to the article TSA-porn-kings-follow-money and he replied: "On the bright side, at this rate it’s only a matter of time before we get a free colonoscopy every time we fly!"

So here's an idea. Why not merge healthcare, tourism and the airline industry under one big federal dept.
Mandate that each year every US resident must fly to a vacation resort.
Citizen gets his annual health exam at check in, airline industry sees huge jump in travel, which will lead to lower unemployment, and tourism grows! Again lowering unemployment!
All problems solved... catch terrorists, fix healthcare and get people back to work. Oh it's all so simple if only Washington would think outside the box! ;-)
Dean Spahr

November 24, 2010 11:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dean, it might be as clean as the endoscopy unit at St. Clair Hospital.
Elaine Gillen

November 24, 2010 11:55 AM  
Anonymous David Brown said...

Bob: All else equal, our other taxes or debt can only have been higher with less revenue from parking or any other source. It's pretty basic.

Tom: Obviously! Of course! I can cite many many examples from my own experience. There's nothing new or profound about it.

I just don't think the meter maid is an example. No one has suggested a single mechanism whereby strict parking enforcement actually causes less voluntary parking regulation observance. Lacking that, I view this article as a clumsy attempt to couch ideology about national affairs and party politics under cover of a local issues blog.

November 24, 2010 12:59 PM  
Anonymous Bob Reich, Jr. said...

Sorry again, David. But it's simply not "basic". You refuse to acknowledge that the government could do what the rest of do in our daily lives - make the decision to NOT buy a good or service based on the availability of funds.

So if you want to continue to believe that your payment of a parking ticket fine helped fix a leaf truck (that was here way too early and on the wrong day this morning) or paint a line on Washington Road you are free to do so. I will continue to surmise, but with all due respect again, that you are delusional....

November 26, 2010 10:01 AM  
Blogger Tom Moertel said...


You wrote, “No one has suggested a single mechanism whereby strict parking enforcement actually causes less voluntary parking regulation observance.”

What you seem to be overlooking is that the function of government isn’t to cause observance with regulations. Regulations and the enforcement schemes behind them, if they’re working properly, ought to be serving the public – not the other way around.

Parking regulations, for instance, don’t exist to cause people to feed meters with metronomic precision. They exist to allocate convenient, short-term parking to shoppers, restaurant-goers, and other people needing to stop for a while. Parking meters and fines, then, aren’t there to force “observance”; they’re there to make sure people don’t tie up parking unnecessarily.

And credible enforcement is all you need to meet this goal. Going beyond, into “strict parking enforcement,” as you call it, only makes people cut short their shopping, dart from their dinner tables to feed the meter, and hesitate to stop altogether, for fear that a tiny, honest timing mistake will result in an expensive ticket.

Once enforcement becomes so strict that it causes people who ought to be using a resource to hesitate to do so, it’s no longer functioning properly. Enforcement that is “perfect” is actually worse than enforcement that is merely credible.

I’m not saying that’s what enforcement in Mt. Lebanon has come to. I’m just responding to your implied question about how stricter enforcement could be worse than weaker enforcement.


November 26, 2010 11:50 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home