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Council will debate parking meter hike Monday

On Monday, the DC Council will consider Jim Graham's proposal to raise DC on-street parking meter fees (except in existing performance parking zones). $1/hour meters would become $1.50, and 50¢/hr to 75¢. Also, Saturday parking downtown would no longer be free.

Photo by Wayan Vota on Flickr.

The Council will almost certainly use that to restore the deep cuts in housing programs like Housing First, which moves homeless people into their own housing. It's been very successful so far, but the Council cut funds to move more people into their own housing due to the budget shortfall.

Coincidentally, Chicago just set up even larger increases, but they had to privatize their off-street parking meters to do it, foregoing much of the potential revenue. As Matt Yglesias explains, the higher rates can themselves bring positive benefits to Chicago in addition to the money.

Outside of performance parking zones, DC's rates are too low, and higher rates will increase turnover, making parking more available. Still, higher parking rates in commercial areas do also affect businesses by scaring away some shoppers. That's why Donald Shoup argues for dedicating all additional revenue to improving the streetscape, transit, bike parking, or other amenities that make it easier for people to still shop in these areas without driving.

Right now, DC needs these important housing programs, and I support raising meter rates to fund them. But DC should also not abandon or postpone its programs that will empower residents to shop without cars. We still need the Circulator to U Street, Columbia Heights and Adams Morgan and to the Nationals ballpark. And DC should move with all deliberate speed to build a streetcar network, perhaps with they money they could save by not widening the 11th Street Bridge.

Finally, once tax revenue starts rising again, we should resume properly using tax money, instead of meter money, for the housing programs. Then we can ensure that as people pay for parking, they are also paying for improvements that make it possible not to drive and park at all.

Want to testify? The hearing is at 10 am Monday, in Room 500 of the Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue. To sign up to testify, email or call Maria Angelica Puig-Monsen (202-724-8195 or by 5 pm today.

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. 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 now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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Using motorist-related fees, for non-motorist-related needs seems very disingenuous. We don't elect councilmembers to make value judgements for us. If they want to fund more good causes such as Housing First which is without doubt a worthy program, than that should be laid out in the budget and funded accordingly. Stealing from Peter to pay Paul is wrong. Constituents appreciate transparancy and being "up front" and don't like "shell games".

by Lance on Dec 5, 2008 2:18 pm • linkreport

Lance: Couldn't we say that about any funding mechanism for these housing programs, other than making the homeless pay for it themselves? Why is using real estate transfer tax for non-real estate purposes not equally disingenuous? What about using capital gains tax for non-stock purposes? Those taxes were the main sources of income that dropped. Is using that revenue for these programs a 'shell game'?

by David Alpert on Dec 5, 2008 4:34 pm • linkreport

David, what I meant was that if we are going to fund worthy programs such as Housing First, let's put it in the budget that gets published and commented on and give full transparency to what is being spent and where it is being spent. To increase the parking fees just so that you can then later slide to another use where you have publically reduced the funding is disingenuous. It gives the Councilmember the ability to make value judgements absent the public scrutiny which the process is set up to ensure.

Additionally, user taxes such as motorvehicle related taxes are supposed to be directed to the benefit of those uses. (They're not like general taxes such as income taxes which are come with less restrictions since they aren't use-specific). You can make a case that revenue generated from meters can be used in another transportation related areas such as funding tramway construction, but I think it's really a stretch saying it can be used to provide homes for the homeless. It's important to remember that taxes related to something like transportation are quasi-user fees ... and NOT general tax revenue like an income tax.

The bottom line is that if these boundaries aren't respected, then we, the voters, lose control over what taxes are raised and how they are spent since the politicians start to see them all as fungible and disposable to their own political needs vs. actual needs as expressed by constituents in the normal budgeting and allocation process.

by Lance on Dec 5, 2008 5:08 pm • linkreport

When is DC going to abolish those antique parking meters where you have to buy a hot dog at a stand to get them to change enough quarters for you to insert? Years ago we had quarter-peep porn stores on every block where you could easily go in and get as many quarters as you wanted since they assumed you were a customer. Who carries that many quarters?

Many many years ago when I lived in Germany and the Netherlands they already had the machines on each block where you insert your credit card or cash to get a printed ticket for your windshield. Hell, even Baltimore has mostly those now. I understand parking contracts, including meter contracts have traditionally been a source of financial kickbacks to local politicians, but couldn't they graft even more if it's on our plastic?

by Tom on Dec 5, 2008 9:48 pm • linkreport

what I meant was that if we are going to fund worthy programs such as Housing First, let's put it in the budget that gets published and commented on and give full transparency to what is being spent and where it is being spent.

It's my understanding that's what happened; Housing First had a line in the District's current budget, approved by the Mayor and the Council, laying out how much was to be spent on it and where the money was coming from. However, the funding sources that were earmarked for Housing First were among those that came in under projections, so Graham is proposing to create a new revenue stream and add it to Housing First so that the District will be able to spend as much as they'd previously agreed to spend. The only difference between this proposal and the normal budgeting process is the time of year.

by cminus on Dec 7, 2008 9:23 pm • linkreport

I'm not sure how much money can be saved by not widening the 11th Street Bridges. As I understand it, those bridges have to come down soon - and new bridges go up in their place. Not to say there won't be some savings in building a smaller bridge, just that it won't be a total savings.

by David on Dec 12, 2008 11:17 am • linkreport

There's some other fringe benefits to the 11th St Bridge project too:

- A "local street" 11th St bridge, one which could be made streetcar-ready if streetcars aren't incorporated into it outright.

- Pulls traffic off of the end of the SE Freeway and Pennsylvania Ave on the Sousa Bridge, allowing those two to be rebuilt to better fit the area, as well as the Anacostia/Pennsylvania interchange.

- Might pull enough traffic off of New York Ave to where the proposal to close part of the 395 Tunnel at New York Ave can be done without creating an even bigger mess than the one that already exists.

by Froggie on Dec 12, 2008 11:31 am • linkreport

That's interesting. David A. would you support the new 11th Street bridge - with transit and better bike connections - if it came with a closed 395 tunnel?

by David C on Dec 12, 2008 4:32 pm • linkreport

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