Image by DDOT.

Residential parking permits let people park their cars on public space for an amazing steal, $35 a year. DC Councilmember Mary Cheh (ward 3), chair of the Committee on Transportation and the Environment, wants to raise those fees to $50 for one car and $75, $100, and $150 for subsequent cars.

Yet some of her colleagues pled on behalf of downtrodden four-car-owning households, and there's a good chance the council will strip out the RPP increase, potentially along with important transportation programs it funds. I'd say, instead, this fee is still too low and should be even higher, with discounts for lower-income residents.

Please ask the council to keep and even increase the RPP fees.

When Cheh's proposal first came out, several commenters and people on Twitter responded to the news by saying, “Wait, it's only $35 ***a year***??” In most of the city, off-street parking would run $200 a month, or about $2,400 a year. You could park 68 cars on DC streets for the same price as parking one in a garage. Cheh provided data to her colleagues that other jurisdictions' RPP fees are higher than DC's.

“Thirty-five dollars, what a bargain to be able to park on the streets by your house,” said none other than Jack Evans (ward 2). He was no fan of this change, but he even acknowledged that the rate is quite low.

However, he added:

In my ward, virtually every street is a [residential permit parking] street, and most people have more than one vehicle, some of them up to four. So if you have four vehicles, which isn't uncommon if you have a working family with kids, a husband and wife have cars, kids have cars — we are increasing it if you have four vehicles from four times 35 which is $140 to $375. This is a 150% increase for a family that happens to have four vehicles. That's a big deal. That's a big jump.

And if you are on a fixed income, it doesn't sound like a lot of money, but it is a lot of money. I certainly understand the idea of parking by your house and it's only $35. Though when I moved to the city it was free. This is a huge jump though. We have to be mindful of this that the government is just nickel and diming us. It's this fee, it's that fee, and the government is just nickel and diming us and I always get complaints when you do stuff like this.

Let's be clear what being “on a fixed income” means. It's usually not meant to refer to people worth $25 million who own mostly bonds, aka “fixed income investments,” and clear six or seven figures annually from those investments. When elected leaders talk about people on fixed incomes, it's retirees on Social Security or pensions. It's people with disabilities receiving government payments.

Most people in Ward 2 don't have more than one car

The Census doesn't provide detailed data on fixed income residents owning four cars and parking them on the street, but that can't be a huge population of great concern. Especially not in Ward 2, which includes Georgetown, Foggy Bottom, Kalorama, Dupont Circle, Logan Circle, and the Penn Quarter. As a resident of Ward 2, I can say with great certainty that “most people” do not “have more than one vehicle.”

Looking at the Census 2017 5-year estimates from the American Community Survey and taking Census tracts which are entirely or almost entirely inside Ward 2, I found the following, for workers 16 years of age or over in households:

Workers in Ward 2 Percentage
No vehicles available 17,786 43%
1 vehicle available 17,911 43%
2 vehicles available 4,952 12%
3 or more vehicles available 859 2%
Total 41,508 100%

Citywide, where there are more low-density, car-dependent areas, 26% of workers have no vehicles, 43% have one, 24% have two, and 7% have three or more.

Cheh presented the council with separate data, drawn from DMV records, that show that only 0.9% of households citywide have four or more RPP permits. In Ward 2, that's very likely even lower, since car ownership in generally lower in Ward 2.

Worrying about the four-car-owning residents is literally about the 1%.

Councilmembers debate whether the <1% who park four cars on the street should drive policy

Brandon Todd (ward 4), who represents areas from Petworth north to the Maryland border, said he is “extremely concerned” about the change. He said, “A household may have four cars, which I expect that many residents in my ward may, could pay as much as $150 for their fourth car and that could be a big financial burden for a family in the District of Columbia. And while I support where the funding would go — healthy parks, healthy students — I am hopeful that before the final version of the budget, we can take a look again.”

Todd reiterated this at a budget worksession Thursday, first saying, “I represent a ward that has a lot of middle class families,” which is true, but then started talking about families which have four cars, which are, again, less than 1% of families.

Further, this fee is only for parking on the street. People with four cars very likely have some off-street parking. At $35 a year, it's logical to simply get the sticker, for flexibility, but not actually park on the street. Some people will instead forego the sticker, which is just fine.

Kenyan McDuffie (ward 5) said, “While it might seem like a modest increase to some, there are individuals and families who would disagree with that, who would find it as a significant increase and would negatively impact their ability to be able to get RPP in their communities. … I'd be curious whether you would be open to exempting Ward 5. The residents of Ward 5 don't want it … I know my residents have reached out to me and I'm trying to channel their voices, and let you know that the residents of Ward 5 do not appreciate it.”

I suspect many of our Ward 5 readers have a different view.

Brianne Nadeau (ward 1) and Charles Allen (ward 6) praised the proposed increase. Allen said, “35 bucks is the best deal in town,” and recognizing that 0.9% of households have four or more cars, he added “If I have four cars, I'm taking up a lot more public space than if I have one car. Even at 50 bucks, even at 75 bucks, this is incredible cheap rent for storing my car on the public street. If I'm storing my private vehicle on your public street, I assume I'm going to pay for it. … I could make an argument to go much further than this, but even with this, we're at the bottom rung in the entire region.”

Make the RPP increase even higher

As Allen and Evans said, this is a steal. Rather than removing this increase, the council should consider raising it even further.

To alleviate concerns about hitting low-income households (even though very few have four cars) so hard, it wouldn't be unreasonable for the program to have a discount based on income. Another good extra wrinkle would be to target prices to the demand in each ward. Ward 2 is very dense and street parking is quite scarce. In some other parts of the city, that's not an issue. It's not unreasonable to charge more for RPPs in Ward 2 and much less in low-density wards or neighborhoods.

Ask Mendelson and the other councilmembers not to remove the RPP fee, and even raise it, in the final budget. Feel free to suggest some of these additional policy ideas, or others of your own devising.

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.