Photo by Mr. T in DC.

Councilmember Jack Evans said on TBD NewsTalk today that he planned to propose a rollback of parking meter charges on weeknights and Saturdays, saying, “I’m going to introduce legislation at our next meeting that brings us all back to sanity.”

TBD reports that Evans has identified a source of funding, but is keeping mum so Councilmembers don’t try to use that funding to pay for other priorities. Still, any bill would have to go through a hearing, where many bills come out looking quite different than when they went in. This could be a great opportunity to debate what, exactly, DC’s parking policy should look like.

Parking isn’t perfect now. Some of the complaints are fair, like the people who have a hard time mustering 16 quarters for two hours. But if I drive Greater Greater Wife (whose mobility is limited at the moment) to an orthopedist’s appointment and can’t find a street space, we have to pay $10 for just an hour at a garage.

$2 an hour in the meter is a huge steal, but only if we have the quarters. That’s why DDOT, thankfully, is trying a bunch of parking technologies.

If Evans does want to “bring us back to sanity,” what would good legislation look like?

  • It could specify that where multispace meter data shows that street spaces are below 80% occupancy, the rates at those spaces should be lowered.
  • It could specify that a separate measurement should be done on Saturdays, and Saturday rates either lowered or eliminated if spaces are below 80% occupancy on Saturdays.
  • It could require that any meters over $1 an hour provide alternative payment, like credit cards or pay by phone, by a certain date. We probably shouldn’t have ever raised those rates until alternative payment was available. But now that we have, if DDOT plans to pick a winning technology from its pilots and install those meters more widely, it’d be silly to lower rates for a few months. The legislation could give a deadline, like one year, to replace those meters, or the rates have to go back down.
  • It could require that in areas where meters charge in the evenings, people be able to refill the meter without having to physically be present, such as by cell phone. This is because restaurants have been complaining that people have to leave the restaurant to feed the meter and often skip dessert. If the new technology lets them simply pay another buck or two to stick around longer, that shouldn’t be such a problem.

What legislation shouldn’t do is continue the one-size-fits-all approach of setting parking policy that we’ve gotten as a result of budgets driving parking rates. Rates may need to go down in some areas, but not all, just as they could go up in some areas but not all.

It’s not ideal for the DC Council to be setting parking rates. Even now, the Budget Support Act each year contains detailed lists of which blocks are in the “premium demand zone” and other rate issues. Parking rates should be set through some sort of administrative process, not legislation.

At the same time, DDOT has sadly not demonstrated effective stewardship of parking issues during the past two years. In response to my criticisms, Gabe Klein said they do now have a parking plan. I hope DDOT is getting close to releasing that plan for public debate, because otherwise there’s the real danger that parking policy will get decided for them, and probably more clumsily.

And meanwhile, don’t forget to take DDOT’s survey to help them pick a technology. I’ve heard from a few people that the type they have on U Street are extremely confusing, though I haven’t tried them myself. Let’s make sure DDOT has all the information to make wise choices.

Update: I’ve added new information from TBD and revised the second paragraph based on it.

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.