Wells would keep Circulator fare, expand CaBi, and more
Tommy Wells would like to keep the Circulator fare at $1, add 40 more Capital Bikeshare stations, hire needed people at DDOT including a parking czar, set up performance parking on H Street, fund green alleys, and more. Increased residential parking fees, including for households with extra vehicles, and some higher fines will pay for these priorities.
These are some of the recommendations in the draft budget report from the Committee on Public Works and Transportation, which Wells chairs. The committee oversees DDOT, the Department of Public Works, the DMV, WMATA, and a few others, and the report covers budget changes to those programs.
The recommendations include:
Expand CaBi faster. $2 million in capital funding would fund 40 more Capital Bikeshare stations in the core and in more peripheral neighborhoods.
This would add to the 25 already planned and other stations that private developers or federal agencies will pay for. In total, DDOT says this will allow the system to double from its original size within 2 years of the September 2010 launch.
Fund green alleys. Many alleys have crumbling surfaces and greatly need repair, but there hasn't been much money for this in recent years. $1 million would fund a new Green Alleys program, picking some alleys to rebuild with permeable paving, energy-efficient LED lighting, trees, and more.
Keep Circulator fare. Wells is proposing to keep the Circulator fare at $1, rolling back Mayor Gray's proposal to make it $2 cash and $1.50 with SmarTrip. Downtown businesses argued that it would cut ridership substantially, perhaps even reversing all or most of the expected revenue gain. The Circulator is also going east of the river, and some felt it wasn't right for it to finally go there and double in price at the same time.
The funding for this comes partly through use of one-time funds at WMATA, so the Council will have to look at the Circulator fare again next year. Wells wants that to happen once the Council has reviewed and approved DDOT's plans for longer-term Circulator expansion.
Semi-replace 7th Street Circulator. The north-south Circulator is still going away. To partly make up for it, WMATA is creating a 74 bus to travel between I Street NW and the Southwest Waterfront along a route similar to that part of the Circulator's, and extending the V8 bus, which connects Minnesota Avenue to Southwest, along 7th Street to downtown as well.
Hire ward planners, development reviewers, and parking czar. Wells also wants to restore six positions at DDOT which have been vacant for some time. Gray's budget cut most vacant positions entirely. The six positions include three ward planners, for wards 2, 3, and 5. The ward planners made sure that all DDOT projects in a ward fit together well, and provided useful points of contact for the communities involved.
DDOT also needs to staff up its development review department, which looks at planned developments and zoning filings and encourage developers to effectively accommodate pedestrians and bicycles, consider good stormwater management, and include Transportation Demand Management programs. Wells would add 2 positions for this.
The final and most exciting staff position is a parking program manager, or "parking czar." DDOT's parking program has been a tremendous disappointment for years. The performance parking pilot zones didn't see the kind of experimentation that the legislation asked for. Some neighborhoods have wanted performance parking but haven't been able to get it.
DDOT has been mailing out free visitor parking passes in several wards, which leaves large opportunities for abuse. They have promised for years to set up a better system, but haven't. If they can get a good parking program manager, DDOT can finally be the national leader in parking policies they once seemed to be, but got eclipsed by San Francisco and other cities.
Start performance parking on H Street. Wells would create a third performance parking zone, around H Street NE (G to I Streets from 3rd to 15th). Residential streets in the area would become resident-only for one side of the street, as in the other zones, and meters set to achieve 10-20% available spaces.
Protect neighborhood RPP funds. The performance parking pilot zones dedicate most of the revenue raised to local neighborhood improvements, giving residents a stake in the success of performance parking. Gray's budget took this money away to use as general revenue; Wells wants to restore it.
Maintain traffic enforcement officers. The proposal would restore 5 traffic enforcement officers cut in Gray's budget. There are plenty of places where enforcement can make pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers all safer by stopping dangerous behavior. Also, DDOT wants to do more to stop parking in loading zones, bus stops, and handicap placard abuse.
Keep "sweepercam" tickets. Gray's budget eliminated the "sweepercam" system, where street sweeping trucks automatically photograph vehicles illegally blocking sweeping and DPW can send them tickets. Without this, DPW would have to have people manually enforce the sweeping.
Also, as the report points out, the cameras allow DPW not to ticket anyone parked in a sweeping zone after the actual sweeping has finished, whereas if officers did it manually, they wouldn't know and would still ticket those cars. The committee report restores $300,000 for this program.
Create a DDOT enterprise fund. When DDOT lost its "unified fund," it lost some ability to dynamically fund innovations without going through the Council first. Budget staff at that time talked about creating a special fund with some money that can go to such programs. Wells' proposal moves Capital Bikeshare advertising revenue into this fund, along with truck weight fees, multispace meter advertising, car sharing fees, loading zone permit fees, and a few others.
And more. Wells' proposal also funds a "bait bike" where officers place a bike which looks ripe to steal, and watch to catch people who try to steal it. $50,000 will also go to the Committee on Libraries, Parks and Recreation for neighborhood parks. Gray's budget cut the $10,000 annual funding each for the Bicycle Advisory Council and the Pedestrian Advisory Council; Wells is restoring both.
How will Wells and his committee pay for all this?
Errors in the budget. Some money comes from finding mistakes in the budget. For example, Gray's budget office moved a lot of DDOT positions from the capital budget over to the operating budget. That's mainly an accounting issue; the jobs are still there, but some categories of spending went from large amounts to zero and other categories went from zero to big. Upon scrutinizing all of this, Council staff realized that some of the jobs had been moved over twice, leading to double-funding in the budget.
Higher and graduated RPP fees. A big part of the increase comes from a longtime GGW recommendation: increasing RPP fees, especially for households with multiple cars. DC's fees for resident parking permits are remarkably low, at $15/year. Renting any other chunk of space anywhere in the city costs far more. San Francisco charges $98/year, for example.
Under Wells' proposal, RPP fees will increase to $35/year, except for seniors 65 and older who will only pay $25/year. Once the DMV finishes a computer upgrade to support it, additional permits for each household will cost $50/year for the second and $100/year for additional permits beyond that.
Fines for repeat parking offenders. Fines for parking in residential areas beyond the 2 hours allowed, or for parking in resident-only areas, would increase for repeat offenders. The fine now is $30, except $60 around the ballpark during games only. The $30 fines would remain $30 for the 1st and 2nd tickets someone receives in a single calendar year, but become $60 beyond that.
Reciprocity fees. Congressional, military, Presidental appointees, and some others are allowed to have reciprocity permits, getting the benefits of registering cars in DC including RPP permits but without actually becoming DC residents. They pay $10 annually for this, while students have to pay $338 and temporary residents $250. Wells proposes increasing the reciprocity fee to $50.
What's not included
WMATA, fully. Gray's budget slightly increased DC's contributions to WMATA, but DC was still $10.422 million short of the level needed to avoid service cuts. Wells found another $6.265 million, and is asking the Council to consider the other $4.157 million as a council-wide priority in the next phase of the budget process.
Each committee first considers its own budget, and moves around money within that area, raising related revenues if desired to restore programs. Then, the whole Council looks at further cuts or restorations broadly; the remaining WMATA gap will be one of them.
Street sweeping inspectors. Gray's budget cuts the numbers of officers enforcing street sweeping rules. Wells said in this morning's markup that he wanted to increase the numbers, but unlike with the DDOT traffic officers, the CFO wouldn't certify revenue from these officers, so the Council would have to come up with more revenue to restore them.
The committee report also touches on some other topics which aren't line items in the budget, but which have budgetary implications. It asks DDOT to organize a task force to look at long-term transportation funding as gas taxes decline; to try to implement Circulator expansions even sooner than proposed; to add more efficient streetlights; and more. DDOT has also promised to conduct a transportation study on M Street SE/SW.
For DPW, the committee asks them to aggressively push fleet sharing, especially to replace older vehicles; to come up with a strategy to increase recycling; and to publish more information on costs that Wells has been asking for.
The committee had its markup session scheduled for 10 am, but as of this writing didn't have enough Councilmembers present to make up a quorum. Assuming it passes the markup, this will get agglomerated with the budget reports from the other committees.
The full Council will then take up the WMATA funding issue and other larger priorities from other areas. Issues outside of transportation, like the proposed income tax increase for people making over $200,000 and cuts to human services, will be debated at the full Council level.
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