A simple guest parking pass program can fix many problems
Bills have been proliferating in the DC Council to fix problems with the Resident Permit Parking (RPP) system. Rather than playing whack-a-mole with the system's flaws, the Council and DDOT could set up a simple system for residents to print out guest passes online, for a small fee, and eliminate the constant stream of requests for exemptions.
Councilmember Mary Cheh is holding a parking roundtable tomorrow at 11:30, to hear about parking issues broadly in DC as well as 2 of these specific bills.
The RPP system serves a valuable role, but also has many flaws. Its main purpose is to reserve most of the available street parking in a neighborhood for residents of that area. But some neighborhoods with Metro access, like Woodley Park, find many people driving from other parts of the ward to park there and commute by rail, because RPP gives privileges to anyone in a ward, regardless of boundaries.
Other neighborhoods are unhappy about the numbers of out-of-state students who get reciprocal parking permits, or large buildings getting built which flood the area with RPP-eligible residents and make on-street parking more difficult where once it may have been simple.
Other times, RPP goes too far. For example, firefighters at some stations around the District, whose hours and locations make transit impractical, are getting tickets for parking on the street because they aren't residents. These firehouses have no parking of their own, the firefighters say they have no alternative places to park, and their latest contract includes a requirement that DC provide some free parking.
Issues like this have led to a plethora of bills this session which either create small exceptions to RPP eligibility, to reduce the number of permits, or exceptions to RPP rules, to allow certain people to park where they can't today.
There's the Firehouse Parking Exception Amendment Act of 2011 (introduced by Mendelson, Cheh, and Kwame Brown), the Reserved Parking Spaces Amendment Act of 2012 (Barry), Neighborhood Spillover Parking Prevention Amendment Act of 2011 (Wells), and Neighborhood Contractor Daytime Parking Permit Amendment Act of 2011 (Wells).
Some of these specific carve-outs address a legitimate need, but these needs arise from the inflexible, one-size-fits-all, black-and-white nature of RPP. Rather than making parking even more complicated than it already is, it could be simple and satisfy all of these concerns.
A simple guest pass program would be simpler
Let's supplement RPP with a comprehensive system of guest passes.
There are already a number of guest passes which have already confused DC parking. Households in some wards get a single guest pass mailed to each car-owning household, which they can give to guests. But what if someone wants to have multiple guests? And in some wards, like the denser Ward 2, there are no guest passes because they'd be too ripe for abuse.
People can also go to the police station to get passes good for up to 2 weeks, but it's a pain to go to the police station. They are sometimes quite far away; I happen to live in the same police district as upper Northwest, and the police say I have to go to the station near McLean Gardens.
This can be much simpler. Just create an online application where a resident can log on, request a guest pass, and print one out for a small fee. The pass can be good for a day, or for a higher fee, a week or two. They enter the license plate of the vehicle, pay, and it prints. For those without computers, they can go to a library, or DC could put computers in some more locations, perhaps including the police stations.
Each pass would list the license number, the ANC zone where it's valid, and the date. Neighbors who see someone using a pass for a different car can call 311 to report it, making it even easier to enforce without needing a lot of parking officers or cameras.
Parking enforcement officers, who already carry networked handheld computers, can spot check some against the central database to make sure nobody has actually forged a pass using Photoshop. Make it a real crime to actually alter a pass, as opposed to just not having one or using the wrong one or an expired one, which should bring no more than a parking ticket.
The fee can depend on demand
Some DC neighborhoods have too many people trying to park and want to limit stickers. Others have mostly empty streets during the day, and need exemptions for the firehouses and home caregivers. This system can easily accommodate both.
In ANC zones that have low demand, make the fee for a pass about as much as one day's round-trip bus fare. That makes sure driving is not more appealing than transit, but neither is it very expensive. Let a household print out as many as they'd like, or maybe cap it at some high number, like 500 car-days per year. People can print out 10 in one day if they want to.
For ANC zones with high demand, just set a higher price. Maybe each household could get a small number of daily passes per year, like 25, at the low price, or maybe that's too complicated.
Carve-outs become unnecessary
With this system, there's no longer any need for bills to grant different groups of people permission to park in RPP zones. Instead, everyone can get the passes. Instead of needing the Neighborhood Contractor Daytime Parking Permit Amendment Act of 2011, any contractor doing work for a homeowner can get a guest pass from the homeowner, for instance.
For the firehouse parking, DC could give firehouses a number of daily passes as well. If a firehouse needs 6 spaces, as some are asking for, instead let them get 6 passes times 365. Better yet, give a small "parking allowance" to each firefighter, and let them buy these passes. If they don't need to park because they can carpool or take transit or decide to live nearer to work, then they can keep the parking allowance.
It would be helpful for Councilmember Cheh to hear from people who've thought about sensible parking policies beyond just wanting exemptions for themselves. You can sign up to testify by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. The hearing starts at 11:30 in room 412 of the Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW.
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