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USDOT: it's cold, so forget about that silly transit thing

The US Department of Transportation sent its staff this memo last night:

Photo by NCinDC on Flickr.

From: Mailrelay, FHWA
Sent: Tuesday, January 27, 2009 5:07 PM
Subject: BROADCAST MESSAGE: Winter Warm-Up Parking Promotion


TO: All DOT Headquarters Employees and Contractors

FROM: Linda J. Washington
      Assistant Secretary for Administration

SUBJECT: Winter Warm-Up Parking Promotion

We are pleased to announce our "Winter Warm-Up," parking promotions for the months of February and March at the DOT Headquarters parking facility.

Monthly Special

During the months of February and March, the monthly parking rate will be reduced to the special rate of $110.00 per month -- that's only $5.50 per day! Current monthly parking permit holders who have prepaid for February and March will be credited on their next permit purchase. If you do not currently have a DOT parking permit, you must submit an application online at: The application will be processed through our Parking Office and you will be notified by email of your parking permit pick-up date. Please allow 1-2 days for processing.

10-day Parking Pass

We also are offering a special pre-paid, 10-day parking package at a reduced rate of only $60.00 -- that equates to $6.00 per day.

Both of these special packages may be purchased at the Parking and Transit Benefit Office located in the West Building, ground level, in room W12-190. The hours of operation are Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Payment options are cash (exact change only) personal check, or credit card.

Regular daily parking permits will continue to be sold at the rate of $10.00 per day.

If you have any questions concerning this announcement, you may send your questions via email to

Transit benefit participants are reminded that it is your responsibility to adjust your transit benefit amount any time there is a change to your actual commuting expenses, including temporary parking.

Does USDOT have more unused parking space in its own garage in the winter? They, of all agencies, ought to be pricing their parking space at market rates: just high enough to fill almost all the spaces. After all, they're pushing market pricing for roadways.

Regardless, the implication that it's so cold we need to make parking cheaper is a terrible message from our officials who are supposed to be the experts on transportation.

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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In our outdated, departing national cultural paradigm, the convenience of a few is always more important that the welfare of all... as long as you're one of the few.

How did we become so childish? It seems like we go out of our way to waste resources so we don't have to do anything. Hopefully we'll collectively get out of middle school one day.

by Cavan on Jan 28, 2009 11:57 am • linkreport

The Northern Virginia district office of VDOT is just as bad. It is located in one of the least transit-accessible locations and is surrounded by a huge surface-parking lot.

This speaks to the need to better integrate land-use and transportation in the highway reauthorization this year.

by Ben on Jan 28, 2009 12:09 pm • linkreport

Try and raise the parking rates for Federal Facility and you will have the "union" all over your ass. Seen it, it gets ugly!

by RJ on Jan 28, 2009 12:15 pm • linkreport

David, As I read this announcement, they are doing precisely what you recommend. It appears as though they have lowered the price to fill excess spaces. There is no mention of any mechanism to limit who can get permits at these rates, i.e., a lottery or preference criteria. But, they do caution that, if you have a full time parking permit, you are not eligible for valuable transit benefits and if you buy the 10-day permit or daily permit, you must reduce the amount of the transit benefits you claim. This means that the total price of parking is much higher than the stated rates.

Monthly parkers are not only paying $110 for the parking permit, but giving up even more in potential transit benefits, easily over $100 a month unless they live very close to the office or work much less than five days a week. That might explain why DOT needed to reduce the price of the permits to equate supply with demand.

by JR on Jan 28, 2009 12:17 pm • linkreport

What's the fair price of a space in their garage? Maybe we should charge everyone $30/day for parking there.

by Vik on Jan 28, 2009 12:24 pm • linkreport

If a few government workers who already drive to work save a few bucks, and then squander the money on food, clothing, and shelter, that's what you call an economic stimulus package.

And I believe it would be an immediate stimulus.

by Mike Silverstein on Jan 28, 2009 12:30 pm • linkreport

JR, the one thing you miss is that the DOT's parking garage is only for DOT employees. The Nationals tried to work out a deal with the DOT to allow outside persons to use their garage in a shared parking arrangement (as most office employees would be gone during game times, offering an excellent chance to maximize parking spaces via shared parking), and the DOT said no (or maybe it was GSA, I don't recall) on 'security' grounds.

I'd be more impressed with their market pricing if they made said parking available to the entire market.

by Alex B. on Jan 28, 2009 12:34 pm • linkreport

It appears as though they have lowered the price to fill excess spaces.

I don't think David was saying (or at least meaning to say) that the objective should be to have a full garage. I think what he was saying was that if it is the case that the garage is full, the price should be raised such that it is just about full every day.

Having a full garage is not a goal in and of itself. If people are eschewing driving and parking in the garage to take transit, then there's no reason to get them to switch to a car. In this case it appears that there are enough people that choose not to drive. Why would DOT want to lower that number?

I'm sure this is just some stupid labor union cherry. "We didn't get you that 5% raise, but hey, you won't get a little bit cold or a little exercise for a month!"

by Reid on Jan 28, 2009 12:42 pm • linkreport


I didn't miss that, I made a particular point about it, although I did notice contractors can buy space which is unusual. Call Colleen Kelly at the National Treasury Employees Union ask her position of Federal Parking privileges and market rates. Federal managers do not want to fight the union over this; hell, congress does not want to fight the unions over this.

Here is your problem, Democrats love their unions more than they love transit and republicans just hate unions as well as transit.

by JR on Jan 28, 2009 12:52 pm • linkreport

Reid: David wrote: "They, of all agencies, ought to be pricing their parking space at market rates: just high enough to fill almost all the spaces."

That means that David's objective is a nearly full garage, i.e., just enough below full capacity to allow people some assurance that a space will likely be available when they arrive with a daily or monthly permit.

They might have announced this rate as being effective for two months in order to determine whether this is the correct (market) rate, or whether there might be other changes in the next few months that would affect utilization of the garage. Not having anything to do with the weather.

Keep in mind that the full cost of parking includes the monthly fee plus the cost of forgoing the tax-free income associated with the transit subsidy.

Alex, As to limiting use of this underground garage to USDOT employees, that is something that we have had to live with since Oklahoma City.

by JR on Jan 28, 2009 12:52 pm • linkreport

I would have needed it if I worked there since the Loudoun County busses to DC decided that they just didn't need to run in today's weather when they are most needed. What's the point of transit that is not reliable?

by Nathan on Jan 28, 2009 1:00 pm • linkreport

I'm well aware of the security concerns, but that also presents a challenge towards market pricing. If the access to those spaces is limited, then it's unreasonable to assume that full occupancy at a market price should be the goal, since the potential audience for those spaces is limited to employees only.

It should be noted that the Nationals wanted to use those spaces for season ticket holders who would have to go through the same permit process that a DOT employee would in order to get a parking permit there. DOT/GSA still said no.

Have a look at DOT's 'visit us' page, they list nearby lots/garages where visitors can park, with rates:

The initial rates for one hour is substantially more than the proposed daily charge for DOT employees at this new reduced rate.

by Alex B. on Jan 28, 2009 1:05 pm • linkreport

Note to DOT:

So far it's been pretty warm in Metro as well as the Fairfax Connector. Perhaps you can encourage your employees to use those facilities.

If not, perhaps you could use the extra dollars you get by getting more people to use their car to fund the Silver or Purple lines.

by Jasper on Jan 28, 2009 1:15 pm • linkreport

The question is how they came up with that number. Here is my hunch:

The rate is established by:

Monthly Cost of the Parking Management Contract/Parking Spaces = your monthly rate.

Now here is what I suspect is DOT’s problem: They are not filling enough spaces to pay for the contract, hence reduce the cost to fill more spaces or use the working capital money to make up the difference (which will piss ever program office off). Notice that they are opening up the parking lot to Contractors, which signals they are hoping that contract employees (previously excluded) will buy up spots as the Feds are failing to.

That is my hunch, as I know a few agencies that run their parking garages like this.

by RJ on Jan 28, 2009 1:17 pm • linkreport

It looks like the market is working here. They set a price and did not attracted enough buyers to buy up the existing supply. So they lower the price. That's how the text books were written when I went to school.

The fact that they are not selling parking spaces to baseball fans in the winter is understandable. My guess is that there are eligible employees that will be enticed to purchase parking during the baseball season. This explain the surplus of parking during the winter months. Hence, the promotion.

Given the "culture of fear" that reigned during the last administration it is understandable that they would be reluctant to allow non-vetted baseball fans to park in the lot. With the new administration there may be a new policy. Then demand would increase and discounting will be a thing of the past.

by Tom on Jan 28, 2009 1:20 pm • linkreport

Unions are just a bunch of people: among any group are environmentalists, transit advocates, etc. Why not try talking to them about the issues that affect us all including union members regarding parking policies instead of just assuming it's a homogenous group with a viewpoint opposite your own?

by Bianchi on Jan 28, 2009 1:21 pm • linkreport


Have you ever had to deal with a labor union before? Easier said than done. Just ask GM, Ford, American Airlines, any School Distric ect.

by RJ on Jan 28, 2009 1:30 pm • linkreport

Tom, there's certainly 'a' market at work here, but it's not 'the' market, defined as the larger number of people commuting to the Navy Yard area. The security restrictions at the DOT garage, limiting it to employees only, combined with pricing data that seems far cheaper than nearby privately operated garages, indicates an oversupply of parking. The limitation that only DOT employees can use this lot distorts the market price of parking as a whole in the area - so it's a little disingenuous to say that the market is 'working' here. One must always consider the context.

by Alex B. on Jan 28, 2009 1:30 pm • linkreport

That means that David's objective is a nearly full garage, i.e., just enough below full capacity to allow people some assurance that a space will likely be available when they arrive with a daily or monthly permit.

Well I'm sure he can answer for himself, but the fact he said "just high enough to fill almost all the spaces" means he's concerned about selling the spaces for too far below the supply demand curve. I'm sure he doesn't care if they charge so much that the garage sits much less than full.

In my opinion, the agencies should do all they can to discourage driving. Charging too high parking fees is a good start.

by Reid on Jan 28, 2009 1:36 pm • linkreport

RJ, I grew up in a car town in Michigan. I have family members, friends and aquaintances who are union members - not just UAW but also teachers and fire fighters. There's a wide range of lifestyles, points-of-view and opinions on all subjects among the people I know personally. I once was a union member too. My sense of reason can be appealed to by someone who approaches me with respect. The language you and Reid are using in describing unions and union members comes off sounding pretty disrespectful to a whole group of people.

by Bianchi on Jan 28, 2009 1:51 pm • linkreport

Granted, but have you every had to sit across the table and deal with a labor union, trust me it is a different world where rationalization and logic are rare commodities. Union leadership and union members are two very diffrent people.

by RJ on Jan 28, 2009 2:05 pm • linkreport

RJ, Are you describing yourself when you say logic and reason are rare commodities? (there's a difference between reason and rationalization). Who would negotiate in good faith with you when you, self-admittingly, come to the conversation not only disrespecting the others' ability to reason but also having decided the other person does not even have that ability? That's not a very diplomatic attitude. No wonder you have such a hard time. Yes, there are ex-union reps in my immediate family.

by Bianchi on Jan 28, 2009 2:29 pm • linkreport

DDOT clearly built too many parking spaces.

by Glenn on Jan 28, 2009 3:01 pm • linkreport

Somewhat off-topic: Can I point out that the president just slammed the city for closing his kids school for "... what?".

Again, he's right.

'Nuf said.

by Jasper on Jan 28, 2009 3:08 pm • linkreport


Classy, I never attacked you, but fine that’s the way you roll, so I will pay less attention to your opinions in the future.

The comment was about their decision and overall agenda. When both parties come to negotiate what is best for their members, more often than not, the union will take a position that is contrary to their members; often electing short term gains at a cost of long term benefits.

by RJ on Jan 28, 2009 3:11 pm • linkreport


Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols didn't park the vanload of fertilizer in a garage at the Alfred P. Murrah building - they parked on the street. And if (as someone here indicated) non-DOT parkers would have to go through a vetting process to qualify for a space, that should have allayed any fears about terrorism.

It's just an excuse for doing the easy thing - locking the garage doors to the public.

In my opinion, government should strive to show LEADERSHIP, i.e., making the less obvious decision that is best for all in the long run.

by Glenn on Jan 28, 2009 3:20 pm • linkreport


Maybe he was referring to first WTC attack, which was the same style of OKC but in the garage. Also, the contractor have already been vetted to enter the building, a process in which most likely identical to that of the Feds. So if you have access to the building they should let you have access to the parking. And judging by the email, it does appear that Contractors can now park at the building.

by RJ on Jan 28, 2009 3:26 pm • linkreport

My best friend was a federal union warden and rep while he worked in Washington. He worked very hard at what he did, not only at his job, but also to prevent the sort of harassment he faced on a daily basis that made it amazingly difficult for him and other employees to do their job well.

Not all union work is about "perks". A lot of it is about not putting up with ridiculous crap.

by Daniel M. Laenker on Jan 28, 2009 3:31 pm • linkreport

RJ, I simply repeated your own words. How does one interpret, " every had to sit across the table and deal with a labor union, trust me it is a different world where rationalization and logic are rare commodities." You seem to very clearly indicate you think the union reps are lacking in reason and logic (that seems like an attack), or, do you include yourself in the assessment that "rationalization and logic are rare commodities" when you "sit across the table"? If you're not including yourself then there is hardly any way to interepret your statement but as an attack on union members and their reps-a group with which I had already informed you I closely identify.

I repeat, unions are full of a variety of people many of whom are environmentalists and transit advocates who would respond positively to a discussion of parking policies that directly affect those concerns.

by Bianchi on Jan 28, 2009 7:03 pm • linkreport

Ironically, when they first opened the building they were telling everyone that there was less parking available in the new building than in the old building.

by RW on Jan 28, 2009 7:16 pm • linkreport

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