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Sewickley Parking Authority wants to offer free December parking

| Monday, Nov. 13, 2017, 1:15 p.m.

Sewickley Parking Authority wants to give local business owners and their customers an early Christmas present by offering free parking throughout the month of December.

The decision, though, is contingent upon borough council's approval at a Nov. 14 meeting.

The suggestion to offer free parking in December came during the parking authority's Nov. 6 meeting and stems from what Mayor Brian Jeffe called “18 months of pure torture.” In previous years, Sewickley offered free parking through much of December after 1:30 p.m.

In late-2016, solar-powered pay stations began replacing Sewickley's 500 on-street and municipal parking lot meters, but the machines often malfunction, frustrating residents, visitors and leaders. Machines were fully operational earlier this year.

Borough Manager Kevin Flannery said some of the sun-dependent batteries are affected by shade from nearby trees and buildings. As of Nov. 6, 11 of the 41 pay stations were down. At least some of the machines appeared to be back in operation this week.

The parking authority voted to spend $430 for two larger batteries that would double the longevity of the pay stations in the busiest parking areas. The board also agreed to spend a maximum of $760 to hardwire a unit.

Using the latest technology, the pay stations work off of a user's license plate number and allow for parking up to eight hours in the business district, as opposed to the old meters, which had to be fed quarters every two hours. Payments at the new stations can be made with quarters, dollar bills or debit and credit cards (American Express, Discover, MasterCard and Visa).

Drivers also can download the Meter Feeder app on their iPhone or Android mobile device to make payments. Customers who experience problems with the app can call 1-844-463-7275. Complaints about the pay stations can placed by calling the parking authority at 412-741-1149.

Currently, the borough has two parking ambassadors who enforce parking from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Parking is free on Saturdays and Sundays. Sewickley averages between $32,000 and $34,000 a month in revenue through ticketing and parking fees.

Authority Chairman Tom DeFazio said the borough may add a third parking ambassador to enhance customer service. In the meantime, if no one is in the office to answer a customer's complaint, the call is now automatically sent to a cell phone carried by an on-duty parking ambassador.

Jeffe, who also serves as the parking authority's secretary, said he understands people's frustration and believes making parking free in December is a way of “extending an olive branch” to all those affected by the malfunctioning pay stations.

Authority members worried that Port Authority bus riders heading into Pittsburgh, as well as local business owners and their employees, would take advantage of the free parking and monopolize spaces all day, forcing holiday shoppers to drive in circles, searching for available spots.

Kristy Locklin is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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