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Replace bulk parking ticket discount with sensible curb management policy

DC will end its practice of giving delivery companies a break on parking tickets, the Examiner's Kytja Weir reported this morning. Councilmember Jim Graham found out about the practice at a recent hearing, and asked the DMV to end the program, which they estimate will raise another $120,000 per year. Instead of just fining delivery companies more, we should find a better solution, like loading zones or performance parking.

Photo by davereid2.

DC isn't the only city that reduces commercial tickets in bulk. In New York, for example, UPS, FedEx and other delivery vans get parking tickets almost every day, because they simply can't find parking spaces near their deliveries. Obviously, it makes no business sense to circle for half an hour for each delivery. They can't deliver most packages any other way, though many firms do use bicycles for smaller and lighter packages. These delivery vans, a vital part of the city's operation, just park at the corner or double park, and rack up the tickets. The city regularly reduces the fines.

If a vital service like delivery trucks are getting tickets constantly, so much that the DMV feels they deserve a break, that tells us there's a problem with our parking system. Instead of keeping the discount or ending it, let's make it easier for the trucks to actually find spaces. Not only is it fairer, it should also reduce the congestion that comes from double parked trucks. Illegally parked trucks are everywhere in DC. They force cars to squeeze into fewer lanes and block bicycle lanes and crosswalks.

Meanwhile, most of the time that truck is right next to a single parked car which carried a single person to the area. That car is taking up that space for hours, or even all day. The truck, meanwhile, might park 20 times in an hour. It needs the space much more than the single person in the single car does.

There are two possibilities. One is to create a lot more loading zones, especially in commercial areas. One loading zone could serve a large number of vehicles and uses over a day, instead of a small handful of single-passenger cars. Graham has introduced legislation to try to improve loading zones, and the zoning update has studied loading regulations as well.

The other, better but more complex solution, is to price curbside parking to encourage turnover and maintain some vacancies. Delivery trucks would usually be able to find a space fairly close to the delivery. And instead of a $100 ticket almost every day, delivery companies would surely be willing to pay a couple dollars in meter fees on each and every stop.

Perhaps DC gets more money by keeping parking rules restrictive and charging high fines. But residents and businesses pay these costs one way or another through higher delivery prices. It's fairer to simply collect the revenue more directly, like through taxes. And the double parking brings a cost to DC in added congestion and reduced safety for pedestrians and bicyclists.

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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I don't see how performance parking really helps *this* problem. First off, delivery trucks are too big for most car spaces. Second, performance parking aims to keep spaces ~90% full, so it's not like there will be "loads" of spaces available. Finally, even with performance parking there won't necessarily be constant turnover. Delivery trucks often need only 5-10 minutes, not 1-2 hours.

Increased loading zones, with more enforcement of them (i.e., non-delivery vehicles) seems like a more sensible approach. Perhaps DDOT can identify a "loading zone" time, e.g., 9:30 to 11:00a and keep certain areas no parking until then, and then open up some of that space to cars after 11am.

by ah on Apr 3, 2009 1:23 pm • linkreport

"and the zoning update has studied loading regulations as well."

Unfortunately, OP's recommendations for changing the loading regulations exacerbate this problem, rather than address the issue.

And, I agree with ah, performance parking doesn't address this for all the reasons ah provides, as well as the observation that much of the double parking for these deliveries is done when there are nearby spaces available, but they would be slightly less convenient, requiring more maneuvering and a slightly longer walk to the entrance.

by Andy on Apr 3, 2009 2:09 pm • linkreport

I agree with ah. This isn't really something that performance parking can solve, because delivery vehicles are longer and harder to park than regular cars. You could drive up the meter prices to assure yourself of always having a 50 foot section available for a delivery vehicle, but those prices would be much, much higher and would harm the use of those spaces by regular cars trying to access those spaces.

The solution is probably a combination of having loading zones at certain times plus providing reduced tickets for double parking only on the less congested streets adjacent to a block face. For example, say Fedex needs to make a delivery to 1776 K St NW, which is between 17th and 18th, I and K NW. Of the four streets adjacent to this block, I street is probably the one that's least congested. It should be designated by signs or at the very least marked on a map available to delivery companies online. Double parking on that block would be reduced in fines to a delivery company, but double parking on any non-designated street would be the full fine.

How is it done in other cities? Surely other cities have dealt with this problem too?

by Michael Perkins on Apr 3, 2009 2:11 pm • linkreport

Actually, performance parking could help. Instead of creating new dead spaces for loading zones, you up the cost of long term parking and drop 5-10 minutes to near nothing in certain areas, and rig it on a timer. During business hours an hour on targeted areas costs a painful amount, while 5-10 minutes costs less than a buck, maybe even a quarter. Better yet if these can be handled by transponder like a speed pass, so delivery folks can just park and dash.

by John on Apr 3, 2009 2:22 pm • linkreport

@John -- What you propose is remarkably similar to having a loading zone in which you get ticketed if you park for more than a few minutes, as a practical matter, but can often stop/park for a few minutes without a problem.

The basic problem is that FedEx etc. look at parking tickets as a cost of doing business. They're going to do it regardless of what it costs (obviously up to a point) so the question is how to accomodate them.

Maybe instead of performance parking we need "performance loading zones". Let Fedex and other companies buy permits for special loading zones that only they can use (with handicapped like fines for others, at least during loading hours). Charge them a lot, but give them certainty as to pricing. Work with the companies to designate areas, and then jack up the double parking/loading zone fines to give them an incentive to sign up.

For the infrequent deliveries they can use existing loading zones or go at non-preferred hours (say afternoon).

For the question about other cities-ever seen NYC? It's a mess too, and their cops give bulk discounts on tickets as well.

by ah on Apr 3, 2009 4:03 pm • linkreport

Financial incentives for double-parking on the quieter streets seems like a clever idea.

by David Ramos on Apr 3, 2009 4:04 pm • linkreport

The real solution is to (1) require transportation demand management and (2) freight delivery management within such a system.

E.g., by shifting some deliveries of packages in the core to bicycles, or to bigger trucks with one driver, but a multiple messengers, companies like FedEx and UPS could reduce both the number of vehicles used as well as the number of parking tickets.

Similarly, by time shifting a number of deliveries ("key drops") to the evening hours, when the streets are for the most part empty, the congestion inducing problems of trucks on delivery are for the most part eliminated.

It would require changes in how business is conducted.

These issues require significant thinking about "business process redesign" (Davenport _Process Innovation_ which I believe is more deep and significant that the similar works about "reengineering") in significant ways, rather than the willy-nilly adoption of particular "solutions" which may be not be truly relevant to the specific "problem" to which they are applied.

by Richard Layman on Apr 3, 2009 4:07 pm • linkreport

Performance parking, as everyone noted, isn't going to help. Yes, making parking more expensive will drive people from their cars. But it isn't going to solve every problem, and it won't even solve most parking problems.

I say make double parking so expensive that these delivery companies switch to smaller vans and cars. The problem is they are too big for the streets, and take up 2-3 parking spaces. Getting them out on foot, bike, or electronic carts is better. 75% of the trucks I see are oversized for what they do.

by charlie on Apr 3, 2009 4:08 pm • linkreport

Maybe combine a SmartPass/EasyPass like system with Loading Zones. When a truck enters a loading zone, receivers in parking signs or meters log that the truck stopped there. They then get 15 minutes free, and anything over gets charged to a central account at accelerating rates.

by jyindc on Apr 3, 2009 4:15 pm • linkreport

@Richard -- I have a fair amount of faith that FedEx uses the most efficiently sized trucks. They have a strong incentive to do so (look at UPS and designing routs to minimize left turns). If they use smaller trucks there will be more of them, logging more miles to/from Landover, Laurel (or wherever their sorting facility is). It's cheaper to drive a partly empty truck around DC than to drive a fully empty truck all the way back to Laurel twice a day.

Now, there is something to be said about-time based deliveries. But FedEx isn't going to be the lead example there--they get premium prices for delivery by a certain time. Of course, that's true for other deliveries--should the fish for dinner be delivered to the restaurant the night before at 11pm?

by ah on Apr 3, 2009 5:05 pm • linkreport

I do not see a problem here at all. Of all the annoyances with traffic, this is one that has never bothered me.

by KC on Apr 3, 2009 5:45 pm • linkreport

I bet none of these commenters have ever had a delivery job. Delivery van drivers will not tuck their trucks neatly along the curb so long as there is a significant likelihood that their truck will be blocked in by double-parked automobiles. Sorry.

by Trulee on Apr 5, 2009 8:19 pm • linkreport

Ok, this is a place where I am scared to death of a government overregulating to hell.

I would try to entice Fedex and UPS to become greener companies.

1) If they buy green trucks (fill in the requirements: hybrid engines, high fuel efficiency, electric powered, no exhaust, natural gas fed, whatever), those (registred) vehicle will be allowed to double park for <10 mins for true deliveries (show signature).

2) Older vehicles will be ticketed at any time, but will get a max 5 min lee-way, if (and only if) they shut of their engines.

3) Trucks blocking traffic completely will be impounded immediately with the purpose of delaying delivery. There also will be a massive fine.

The point is to get delivery trucks to behave like responsible folks who understand that they work in a polluting business, and that their deliveries do cause trouble for other folks in traffic.

I would give delivery companies lee-way in adapting the rules if they come up with reasonable requests that help reduce pollution and traffic congestion.

by Jasper on Apr 6, 2009 10:14 am • linkreport

FedEx and UPS spend tons of money studying the most efficient size and routes for their vehicles, as well as the most efficient placement of delivery hubs. Nearly every UPS package coming into DC, for example, at some point transits through Landover. Why? I don't know, but I do know that if UPS is doing it, they are doing it after tons of sophisticated research designed to keep their delivery times and prices competitive.

Also remember that FedEx Ground, Custom Critical, and other services are handled by private contractors who purchase their own vehicles. One of the largest contractors that serves DC is actually based in Beltsville. While FedEx does have some standards for these contracted vehicles, its pretty much up to the vehicle owners to decide if they want to go with a van, box truck, or even something larger.

One more point, I have never seen FedEx or UPS use bicycles to deliver in any city that I have lived in. I doubt their insurance carriers would ever allow it due to the value of the goods that would have to be left unsecured.

by tivoman on Apr 7, 2009 1:18 pm • linkreport

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