Arlington meter. Photo by Tallent Show on Flickr.

The DC Council put a temporary halt to DC’s new “red top” meter program today. That program would have asked people with disability placards to pay to park like everyone else, but dedicated certain meters, with tops colored red, for their exclusive use. What do you think is the right policy?

Today, anyone with a disabled placard—from any state in the union—could park at a DC meter for free, and for twice the length of time the meter allows. Even the longer time limit was hard to enforce.

DDOT says abuse was rampant, by people without disabilities using the placards for commuter parking. DDOT recently checked some blocks in office areas, and found 40-90% of the cars parked on the street sporting these placards. In one L’Enfant Plaza block, 31 of 34 cars had them.


Image from DDOT.


A few months ago, DDOT announced plans to set up a new system similar to Arlington’s. People with disabilities would henceforth have to pay at meters, like anyone else. They could still park at any meter, plus DDOT would set aside some “red top” meters exclusively for people with disabled placards and with longer time limits.

The vote today postpones any change at least until late June. Unfortunately, as Councilmember Jim Graham noted, the red top meters still have red tops, and people will be confused about whether they are allowed to park there. (Anyone can, for now, as if they were regular meters).

A better approach would have been to let DDOT go ahead with a revised plan it announced this morning. Unfortunately, that announcement came too late for councilmembers to really understand what was going on. DDOT said in their press release that they’d like to keep ticketing drivers without placards who park at red top meters, but would let drivers with disability placards keep parking for free until May 1.

Unfortunately, the Council acted very quickly. Bowser just announced her plan to introduce this “emergency” legislation on Friday. It’s ironic that she responded to people complaining about not getting enough notice by taking action with even less notice.

Meanwhile, Mary Cheh has promised to hold a roundtable, scheduled for March 29, to discuss the policy. She said today that DDOT’s communication around the issue has been “disastrous.” Was it? I saw a number of announcements, press releases, tweets and more. Did DDOT really fail to communicate or were people just not paying attention?

Communication is important, but it’s also an axiom of government that no matter what an agency does to communicate, some people claim that they didn’t ever hear about the change.

Or are people who were parking for free (and maybe abusing the system) just upset that they have to pay now? Several councilmembers’ statements during today’s debate revealed that they really just don’t think people with disabilities should pay for parking. Should they?

Marion Barry noted that people with disabilities have plenty of trouble in life as it is. Bowser pointed out that they get reduced fare on Metro. On the other hand, many people with disabilities also can use our transit system. Charging for parking allocates the spaces for everyone to use, and encourages people who have alternatives to use them.

What should DC’s disabled parking policy be?

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Surface Transit. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions here are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.