Saying he wants to ease congestion on Center City streets, Mayor Nutter has asked City Council to double parking meter rates to $2 an hour, with a goal of eventually raising the fee to $3 an hour.

Nutter said at a news briefing yesterday that too many motorists were hogging meters all day, exacerbating congestion by forcing others who need short-term parking to circle in search of spaces.

Last week, the mayor sent legislation to Council asking for a rate increase. He said it was "nothing more than a coincidence" that the request was made in the same week that he outlined severe budget cuts.

A $2-an-hour meter rate could generate an additional $8 million a year in revenue, bringing the total for the next fiscal year to $31 million, according to Rina Cutler, Philadelphia's deputy mayor for transportation.

However, Nutter said that the rate increase is less about raising money than modifying driving behavior by encouraging faster turnover at meters.

"Parking on the street is incredibly cheap in Philadelphia," he said.

The mayor added that because parking fines also are low in Philadelphia, many motorists consider the cost of a ticket a better deal than parking in a garage.

Under the proposed plan, rates would increase from $1 an hour to $2 an hour in Center City and University City. In outlying neighborhoods, the rate would remain 50 cents an hour.

In Center City's core, new meters that could accept credit and debit cards would be installed.

Once that happens, the city would seek to raise rates in the central area - from Fourth to 20th Streets, between Arch and Locust Streets - to $3 an hour.

City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, who sits on Council's transportation committee, said she would listen to the mayor's idea. But, she added, "these are bad times economically for everyone. People can't afford a lot of stuff. We have to look very, very carefully at this before I can say automatically I support it."

In tandem with a rate hike, the city would increase parking fines. For parking at an expired meter, the fine would jump from $26 to $35.

The Mayor's Office of Transportation and Utilities plans to roll out other initiatives by January to make Center City easier to navigate, including:

Expanding loading zones in some areas, but limiting loading times on other streets.

Creating special zones for package-delivery vehicles.

Improving police enforcement of "Don't Block the Box" regulations.

Designating on-street parking areas for motorcycles, scooters and bicycles.

In a pilot program, the city also will reduce short-term rates at two garages to encourage people to shift from street meters to structures. The garages - at Second and Sansom Streets and at the Gallery - will have a $3-an-hour short-term rate.

Cutler said all the measures are aimed at "behavior modification."

She said she expects some people will begin parking in garages, while others may decide to not use a car to get into the city.