A friend recently moved to DC to work for the US Congress. He rented an apartment near a Metro station and needs a car for the occasional weekend trip, but can take Metro to work. However, so far, he’s driven every day to work. That’s because DC’s Resident Permit Parking system gives him few or no alternatives.

Of course, he should simply register his car in DC. In fact, he’s required to. However, this is a time-consuming process, and it can be tough to find time right after starting a new job. As a staffer for a Member of Congress, he could get a reciprocity permit to receive an RPP sticker without registering his car in DC, but that still requires a DMV trip, is only a privilege extended to Congressional staff, and is really a bad policy, anyway. Another resident of his ward could get a visitor parking pass to give to him, pretending he’s a visitor, though that violates the spirit of that particular policy.

In the meantime, he’s driven to work every single day. That’s because Congressional staff get free parking. Once he gets used to driving, might he just decide to keep driving? Do people at other jobs, forced to park at least temporarily until they register their cars, decide to just keep on driving, whether they get free parking or have to pay?

When I moved to DC, my car was similarly not yet registered. Since I worked from home, I could move it every few hours (though, technically, that’s not allowed). This did induce me to get it registered as soon as possible, but even so, I couldn’t make the time for almost a week. Meanwhile, I had to worry about the car almost constantly.

Does this policy discourage car ownership, and push people to register their cars in DC as they should? Or does it encourage people to grow accustomed to driving to work instead of riding Metro, especially among those, like Congressional staff, who get free parking? Should we provide a 15-day “New Resident Parking Permit” people can get at the police station by presenting a new lease or property settlement agreement?

An even better solution would stop providing large numbers of very specific exceptions, and roll up this problem with visitor parking passes, daytime parking passes, and other parking needs. At last week’s hearing on parking bills, Cheryl Cort of the Coalition for Smarter Growth suggested DC sell one-day passes for a few dollars. Anyone could buy them online, print them out, and place on on the windshield. That person could then park in residential zones for that day.

Residents could still park in their zones without these passes, but all of the other people who need exceptions to RPP could just buy the passes, including home health care workers, employees of nearby grocery stores, visitors and new residents. We could send every resident a free booklet of these passes, and let anyone buy more if needed. New residents would still have an incentive to register their cars, in order to save the money, but in the meantime, they’d at least have the option of parking. Maybe, due to their free parking, Congressional staff would drive anyway, but at least there would be a choice.

Tagged: dc, parking, rpp

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David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). 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 in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.