Let’s get something out there from the get-go. I hate parking meters. I hate them a lot. I cackle when I see them broken, I chuckle when the little display blinks “FAIL” and I grin when I read a story about a guy with a reciprocating saw that cuts them down like Paul Bunyan. But it’s why I hate them that matters. I hate them because they’re an impediment to getting what you want to get done accomplished. They’re temperamental, they’re kludgy and they’re driven by heavy coins that you never seem to have enough of.
There’s a movement afoot to roll back the parking meter rate increases that the Fenty Administration enacted. Rates climbed to, in some cases, $2/hr, and enforcement hours expanded. The point was to help increase revenue for the city, and to increase it with the people that use the roads in DC and park in the commercial areas. So, let’s look at what’s going on here.
Leading the charge against the meter hikes is Councilman Jack Evans of Ward 2. He’s interested in a “return to sanity” in meters. I would agree, I’d love a saner system, but that doesn’t mean we have to back away from the meter charges. Let’s talk about what garage parking runs downtown. I can’t think of a single garage (but I’m sure you can) that offers hourly parking for less than $10 an hour. My last two refuges of sub $10/hr parking have this summer raised their rates, and that’s lead me to street parking on a number of occasions, when I can get it.
He believes that parking should be free on weekends, that it should be $1/hr and that meters should run to 6:30pm.
Here’s the thing: He’ll need to find $6-8M in order to pay for that, in a year when the city’s running a rumored $100M in deficit. I can’t think of why parking needs to be just a tenth of what the garages are successfully charging and getting. The market can, and will, bear prices of $2/hr. There are a couple of problems, though, with the way DC enacted these changes:
- Coin-only meters. God these things suck. 8 quarters buys you just 60 minutes. If you were to park for two hours, twice in a day, you’d be looking at a burn rate of four rolls of quarters each week.
- Unreliable equipment. I run into broken meters on a regular basis, I swear I’m on a first-name basis with the folks at the 311 hotline. Broken meters mean no revenue at all, for as long as it takes to fix the meter. Couple with that a rough experience
The answer seems to be, from my perspective, a citywide adoption of payment by phone, the pilots of which I’ve enjoyed very much in Foggy Bottom and near Dupont. Call a number, it recognizes your caller ID, charges your card and gives your license plate the all-clear for a few hours. Not in love with the idea of credit only? I can understand that, but there’s no reason we couldn’t double-up with cash multi-space meters.
Do I hate paying for meters? Well, yes. But parking has to cost something, because it comes with its own abuse potentials, and it’s a resource that the city provides. Keep the meter fees where they are, people will continue to pay them, as long as you make it easy for them to do so. Take out the frustration, and replace it with an easy credit card-accessible option.
There’s another option here, as well, and that’s a system like Arlington’s system with pre-paid portable meters. They get interest on your parking money, you get to mete it out, minute by minute, with support varying lengths and rates. Not a hard system to use, and easy to support. Either way, going back to $1/hr isn’t going to build your revenue base, Councilman Evans, and that’s not what keeps people from going to Georgetown. Georgetown does that all on its own.