Photo by Michael Perkins.

DDOT has installed new multispace parking meters all over downtown, including Connecticut Avenue, Wisconsin Avenue, and the Chinatown area.  These meters replace older single-head meters which have been unreliable.

The new meters have some capabilities that will help the District more easily implement performance parking.  One of the difficulties with implementing a good performance parking plan is the trouble with collecting good data about parking occupancy, and with having meter prices that make sense at different times of day and days of the week.

With old meters, you might only get the number of quarters collected, if it’s logged.  The transactions won’t be tied to times of day or days of the week.  To get the kind of occupancy data you need for performance parking, you have to do manual counts and surveys.  This isn’t a very efficient use of manpower, which may be one reason why performance parking hasn’t taken off yet in many cities.

Additionally, since old meters only allow for one hourly rate, it’s difficult or impossible to implement rates that vary by time of day or day of week.  It’s an all-or-nothing prospect, which is why meters typically run all day and then offer free parking at all other hours, including Saturday and evenings.  But there is sometimes too much demand to let the parking go free, but not enough demand to charge daytime rates.

The new meters are capable of collecting and transmitting transaction-level data, down to the amount of parking purchased, time of day, and date of sale.  By analyzing this data, DDOT can get a very accurate picture of how crowded various parking meters are and when.  For example, I obtained a day’s worth of data from a parking meter on 8th Street SE (near M Street SE).  The data show a dual peak of demand at lunchtime and at 3pm.  This data combined with targeted occupancy surveys would allow DDOT to adjust meter rates to more closely match the demand for parking with the price.

Number of cars purchasing time in 30-minute blocks from 7am to 7pm.

Data from DDOT.

As the performance parking pilot around the ballpark demonstrates, the new meters allow for variable pricing by time of day, for the first hour, or even something as complex as special event pricing.

This combination of data collection and flexible rates allows DDOT to more easily implement performance parking downtown.  DDOT should work with the Council and local groups to roll out performance parking slowly and steadily, starting with the most crowded blocks and based on the data reported by the District’s investment in multispace meters.  DDOT should implement a plan of regular data collection and analysis, with surveys to confirm the calculations.  Then, rates and time limits should be adjusted to implement a target occupancy, in order to make parking more convenient and available.

Michael Perkins blogs about Metro operations and fares, performance parking, and any other government and economics information he finds on the Web. He lives with his wife and two children in Arlington, Virginia.