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Dutch auctions could improve parking permits in DC

Nothing in urban life seems to be as contentious as on-street parking in DC. One answer may be a Dutch auction, which allows residents to set the price of parking, making parking more responsive to demand.

Photo by dan reed! on Flickr.

In DC, residential parking permits (RPPs) are sold to residents well below market rates, meaning people have an incentive to use more space than they may need. This restricts the supply of parking for everyone. And the city isn't making any more on-street parking spaces.

Unlike standard, or English, auctions, in a Dutch auction, prices start high and drop over time. When the price reaches a level that you are willing to pay, you submit your bid and the auction ends. In a modified Dutch auction, the auction doesn't end until the last item sells. At that point, anyone who bid higher than the lowest bid will get a refund for the difference.

Northwestern University uses this kind of auction for its Purple Pricing basketball ticket scheme. Like residential parking spaces, basketball tickets are generally similar, but certain kinds of both are worth more than others.

In Purple Pricing, sports fans visit a website or call a hotline to learn the current selling price for tickets. This price may decline as the game date approaches, but it will never increase. If the price goes down after you buy tickets, you'll receive a refund for the difference. This prevents fans from holding out until the last minute to buy tickets because they'll get the best price no matter what.

A parking auction could work similarly. DDOT would determine the number of parking spaces to be auctioned in each RPP zone. The agency could maintain the current, albeit flawed zones or adjust them. The important part is determining how many "items" each auction will have. The DC DMV would hold an auction with everyone living in a particular RPP zone who has a registered vehicle.

Auctions could open at the start of each year for new parking passes that take effect a month or two later. Initial prices for an RPP would be much higher than the expected final price, and they would lower by a certain amount each day. The DMV would also announce each day how many permits remain.

Let's say that on April 1, the price of a Ward 1 RPP is set at $500. To some people, $500 would be totally worth it and they would submit their bids. Or maybe they're willing to pay whatever the final price is and they want to get their bids in early to ensure that they will get a pass. But it's highly unlikely that the RPPs would sell out at that price.

On April 2nd, the price would drop to $400. Again, more people place bids, but there would still be plenty of permits left. By April 15th, the price goes down to $50, at which point the permits sell out. Since $50 is the clearing price, anyone who paid more than that would receive a refund for the difference.

Since each parking zone would have its own auction, the price of a parking permit would vary based on resident demand. It's likely that demand for parking in dense Ward 1 is higher than it might be in, say, suburban parts of Ward 5. So for places where demand isn't as high, DC could establish the current $35 price as a "floor" to ensure that price doesn't fall below that amount.

Unlike the current system, which issues passes for a flat fee regardless of demand, a Dutch auction accomplishes two things. It recognizes that parking permits have different values in different zones. And it allows resident demand for parking to set prices.

Since the Dutch auction would happen yearly, prices would fluctuate based on that year's demand for residential parking permits. If fewer people wish to park on the street in a certain part of DC, prices would drop. If more residents want to park their cars on the street, prices would rise. Allowing an auction to set the prices also helps depoliticize the parking process, taking price-setting authority away from politicians and bureaucrats.

What about residents who move into the District after the yearly auction takes place? If there aren't any more spaces, the DMV could simply forbid them from parking on the street. Or if there are any remaining RPPs, they could sell them. Residents frequently sell their cars, move out of the District or to another ward, so it's likely that some come available throughout the year.

A Dutch auction raises issues about equity, particularly for low-income residents who may not be able to afford permits or elderly or handicapped residents who may rely on access to a car. DC could provide some a tax credit based on income, age or disability to subsidize the cost of parking permits.

The current approach to RPPs, in which anyone can get one for a small, flat fee, is inefficient and inflexible. It also fails to recognize the finite amount of on-street parking spaces in DC. Holding a yearly Dutch auction for RPPs allows residents to decide how much on-street parking is worth to them, making more space available to everyone.

Brian McEntee writes the blog Tales From the Sharrows, where he talks about his daily bicycle commute from Capitol Hill to American University or many other subjects. 


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Another issue is the option that people can 'loose' their RPP because they can not afford to bid high enough. Then they are stuck with a car but without a parking spot.

by Jasper on Aug 13, 2013 12:46 pm • linkreport

What about residents like me who don't own a car but have visitors on occasion? In residential areas, I'd like parking to operate like a Parkmobile app where one could purchase space by the day, week or even the year.

by Randall M. on Aug 13, 2013 12:47 pm • linkreport

Just meter the whole city (where demand outstrips supply) and exempt zone holders from the meters on their block. Program the meters for variable pricing based on real-time inputs.

by Andrew on Aug 13, 2013 12:59 pm • linkreport

For mid year transfers, holders of RPPs should be able to sell them back to the DMV at a prorated amount based on how long is left in the year. New residents could then buy them from the DMV for a prorated amount based on how long is left in the year. Thus, the auction would set the price for the entire year regardless when you're moving in or out. The DMV should also post how many prorated RPPs are available in each zone and at what cost so that prospective tenants who have a car and need an RPP would know if one was available and be incentivized to move where parking demand was low.

As for issues of equity, some of the additional revenue generated from this could be set aside to subsidize bidders who met appropriate eligibility requirements prior to the auction or during the course of the year if they were to purchase a prorated RPP. That would be cleaner than giving them a tax credit that they would have to file for after shelling out for the RPP in the first place. I feel this is more appropriate for disabled folks than low income. I think the more effective way to subsidize transportation for low income folks is to invest in high quality transit service but this is a debatable point.

by JohnB on Aug 13, 2013 1:05 pm • linkreport

Interesting idea.

It does seem that the drawing of the zones could be political so that could be a flaw.

What about commercial businesses in zones - could they bid on spaces or excess spaces if not all are sold?

Could you do this and if not all of the spaces in a zone sell take Andrew's idea and apportion the remaining spaces using some sort of performance parking system? Or maybe in areas where the retailers have low levels of off street parking (like Upper Connecticut Avenue) you intentionally don't sell the full inventory of spaces to leave some inventory for shoppers who again pay based on some sort of performance parking system?

It seems like an elegant solution but the selling of it and execution could be messy if all of the Politicians, ANC's and Citizen's Association's all get a say.

by TomQ on Aug 13, 2013 1:14 pm • linkreport

Good in concept. However, there is still areas open for feedback (*cough* delay *cough*) that could make this more challenging. How many permits do you auction? So say you have 100 spaces. Imagine you decide to auction 80 permits since although we have 100 spaces, you have the issues of visitors using some of the spaces and varying levels of density or usage such that if the zones are bigger than a few blocks, the only available spaces in my zone could be blocks and blocks away. You could go above 100 permits with the argument that on any given day, some percentage of cars will be out of the area (just like overbooked airplane flights). I imagine this would be a vary contentious topic. While not exact, I think DDOT should simply raise the rates in smaller sized zones. More in demand rates get slightly higher rates and less in demand get lower rates. Raise or lower each year based on surveys and analysis to determine how efficient parking is in the zone.

by GP Steve on Aug 13, 2013 1:19 pm • linkreport

@Jasper I see this as a feature not a bug. People who HAVE to have their car will bid first and help set the market price. I would propose that this scheme be phased in so as to ease the transition. Suggestion: Over a year of advertisement that this is coming so that people could adjust their lifestyle along with significant survey data to provide advance indication of where a market price may be set. People who see that the market price is higher than they are willing to pay either adjust their expectations, move, or sell their car.

by JohnB on Aug 13, 2013 1:20 pm • linkreport

Now to anticipate at least one part of backlash.

Yes, it'd be tough politically to get this through. No one likes the idea of paying several times more of something they previously had for cheap. HOWEVER, just because you weren't paying that much with money didn't mean you were paying in other ways (chiefly, time) spent looking for a spot). Proponents of something like this need to be proactive saying that even though it was only 35$ the costs were still high.

by drumz on Aug 13, 2013 1:22 pm • linkreport

The problem with this is that it's not realistic for all zones as they are now. In my zone (Zone 2), people who want a permit in Georgetown (the western edge of my zone) might be willing to pay $1,000 for a permit. And it might be a good deal at that price in that area, because parking is very scarce there and most residents there can likely afford a thousand bucks for a pass, as it is still substantially cheaper than renting a private space there. On my side of the zone in Shaw, though, I can always find a space within 300 feet of my house. We have way more spaces than cars on my block on all but Friday and Saturday nights. So why should we pay $1,000 for an abundant resource just because it is scare elsewhere and we were put in the same group with that neighborhood against our will? I would imagine those living up near Gallaudet in Zone 6 would feel the same way about pricing near Eastern Market driving them up, or parking in Zones 1, 3 and 4 having the same problem.

The zones are huge and span miles - there's at least one enclave in almost all of them that will drive up prices, which hurts those who chose not to live in those super-dense sections of the zone who want, and according to supply and demand in the marketplace, should get, cheaper parking.

by ShawGuy on Aug 13, 2013 1:23 pm • linkreport

This may be the most economically efficient, but I think people need more certainty in their lives. I think slowly and steadily raising the price by a fixed increment ($50?) every year until there is a perceptible excess supply during peak period is the way to go. Then they can just freeze the price or lower it and even increase it later if demand increases significantly.

Now this may be an interesting way to sell off a finite number of temporary parking passes say at the daily rate that would let people buy a bundle of up to 50/100 daily passes at a market rate that residents or visitors could buy in advance. Helps solves the problem of providing visitor parking where it isnt really commercially available.

by Alan B. on Aug 13, 2013 1:29 pm • linkreport

Singapore has a Dutch auction in place for auto registration permits. It's much easier to control such matters when you're an island city-state, of course, but the explicit goal of their COE system is to keep car numbers down. That's also a citywide system, and yes, you have to renew the COE -- you lose it, you can't get a license plate. Perhaps it could be mothballed, or more likely sold/scrapped.

The ceiling on permit sales could be set such that a few spaces are typically available for short-term rental, via ParkMobile or a similar app. As in Boulder, businesses might also be eligible to purchase some permits, which should ease deliveries.

by Payton on Aug 13, 2013 1:43 pm • linkreport

ShawGuy, simple solution: More zones.

IE: Congress style

A zone can have no more than 10,000 residential units within the boundaries (random number for illustration).

Boundaries set by an independent redistricting committee, aided by computer models.

by JJJJJJ on Aug 13, 2013 1:44 pm • linkreport

Brilliant idea. But the key details are setting the right sizes for the zones and assigning the right number of permits to each zone, for the reasons others have mentioned.

To deal with new residents during the year (or current residents who get another car), I would leave some percentage of the available permits in reserve -- say, 5% or 10%. Maybe only release a certain share of the reserve each month or each quarter -- so the "extras" don't sell out in February.

To deal with the low-income issue, maybe you could run two auctions. You set aside 20% of the permits for zone residents from the lowest income quintile. Then there is a separate, concurrent auction that only those folks can bid in (with income verification upon winning). Bids in that auction will generally be lower because the bidders have less to spend. You could further reassure people by setting the maximum lower for that auction -- say, $200 instead of $500. If the general auction for a zone hits the price floor, then everybody from both auctions pays that and you skip income verification.

by Gavin on Aug 13, 2013 1:52 pm • linkreport

I think even zones by geographic distance would make more sense than number of residents. If you do number of residences you're going to get some zones downtown that are like 9 square blocks. So you're eseentially saying they have no right to parking while people that live in sprawling detached homes would get like a square mile to themselves. Not very efficient. At the very least they should take density into account in sizing zones and there should be minimum and maximum areas for zones.

by Alan B. on Aug 13, 2013 1:54 pm • linkreport

I admire the elegance of the Dutch Auction system. However, I worry about the logistics of the implementation. I also worry about meshing other, non-resident parking needs into a system like this.

Andrew's comments point this out with the idea of adding more meters on 'residential' streets, but exempting permit holders from plugging those meters. Such a system would be interesting, but it provides a challenge in setting the correct number of avialable permit-spaces due to the fact that some are used for residents and some are not.

by Alex B. on Aug 13, 2013 1:56 pm • linkreport

It often comes up in these discussions about "low-income residents who may not be able to afford permits." I'm not sure how these people exist. How could one possibly be able to afford a car, maintenance, insurance and gas but not be able to cough up $35 (or in the case of a plan like this up to $100 or so) a year? The math makes no sense.

by Joe on Aug 13, 2013 2:03 pm • linkreport

Sounds good but I do not trust Ddot or any DC government agency to execute such auctions.
Parking fees need to increase and zones need to be reconfigured to smaller areas. There is no reason that a resident in Georgetown gets unlimited parking in Dupont simply because they are in the same governing ward. Simply carve up the city into smaller zones and price them appropriately.
This would have the added benefit of discouraging the use of private cars for intra-city trips.

by andy2 on Aug 13, 2013 2:07 pm • linkreport

Is there a good argument for why bidding should be reserved for residents?

Homeowners don't own the street in front of their house, no matter how much they'd like to think that they do.

Really, this system seems intriguing, but way too complicated. I'm not right-wing by any stretch of the imagination, but this seems like it would require way too much regulation to implement effectively.

Also, you could kiss mixed-income neighborhoods goodbye. In many areas, permits would go to the wealthiest residents, locking out blue-collar workers whose commuting needs aren't adequately met by our transit system.

by andrew on Aug 13, 2013 2:08 pm • linkreport

We have the technology to eliminate the zones all together as a permit ID would be tagged to a residence and registered vehicle in order to be exempted from the corresponding meter fee.

Thus, one could pay performance pricing anywhere in the city, but would be exempted on their block, or in very high demand areas, maybe it is say four square blocks, from their residence.

by Andrew on Aug 13, 2013 2:29 pm • linkreport

HOWEVER, just because you weren't paying that much with money didn't mean you were paying in other ways (chiefly, time) spent looking for a spot).

Ah, but time to a law firm partner is worth a lot more than time to a college student. So, in the current system, if both parties are "paying" an hour of time looking for parking, they should both be willing to pay in cash for a permit what that hour of time is worth to them. For the law firm partner that might be $500 for an hour of time while only $10 for a college student. Therefore, the new system greatly favors the law firm partner.

Just because the system favors the law firm partner doesn't say anything about its efficiency. It's a very efficient system. But, it is certainly going to create resentment because it will result in a huge increase in price for the college student but the law firm partner will be paying the same price as they are now (that is, they'll be paying $500 which equals one hour of their time).

by Falls Church on Aug 13, 2013 2:31 pm • linkreport

Fair enough but you could use the leftover money (the 35$ is only charged to pay for the administration of the program) to improve transit to encourage more people to use their cars less/give them up. You can't do that with time wasted looking for a spot.

by drumz on Aug 13, 2013 2:42 pm • linkreport

Homeowners don't own the street in front of their house, no matter how much they'd like to think that they do.

Nor do they own their front yard. Would it be reasonable to start renting out people's front yards to the highest bidder?

by Falls Church on Aug 13, 2013 2:42 pm • linkreport

Northwestern University uses this kind of auction for its Purple Pricing basketball ticket scheme.

The result of a system like this will be that all the tickets will go to rich alumni and none will go to poor undergrads. That's economically efficient in the short run but in the long run, you're not creating any new fans. Also, going to a game full of students who've camped out for tickets is a lot more fun than going to a game with a bunch of alumni who are paying more attention to their smartphone than the game.

by Falls Church on Aug 13, 2013 2:48 pm • linkreport

"Nor do they own their front yard. Would it be reasonable to start renting out people's front yards to the highest bidder?"

Thats a weird artifact of DC history. In most of the country they DO own their front yards. IIUC the public ownership of front yards is only relevant in avoiding eminent domain in the event of say a road widening but in all other respects the are treated as if they were private property. But thats not how parking spaces are treated. You can't exclude one of your fellow ward residents with a proper RPP from parking in front of your house.

and of course you can rent your front yard out to your neighbors to use. Can you do that with your parking space, or your RPP? A grey market that treated RPPs like private property, with unlimited transferability, would eliminate many of the inefficiency problems with the current system. But it would show just how much value has been appropriated by RPP holders, and so is probably not politically feasible.

by AWalkerIntheCity on Aug 13, 2013 2:48 pm • linkreport

you could use the leftover money (the 35$ is only charged to pay for the administration of the program) to improve transit to encourage more people to use their cars less/give them up.

That would certainly help deflect resentment because in my example, the college student is a lot more likely to use transit than the law firm partner.

by Falls Church on Aug 13, 2013 2:51 pm • linkreport

The result of a system like this will be that all the tickets will go to rich alumni and none will go to poor undergrads. That's economically efficient in the short run but in the long run, you're not creating any new fans. Also, going to a game full of students who've camped out for tickets is a lot more fun than going to a game with a bunch of alumni who are paying more attention to their smartphone than the game.

Pretty sure the plan applies only to single-games and not season ticket holders, including student season tickets.

The goal is not to get tickets in the hands of rich alums (hell, they would love that!), but rather to keep them out of the hands of the fans of the other teams. This year's football games subject to Purple Pricing will be against Michigan and Ohio State. Consider a previous game against Nebraska:
Do not adjust your monitor, that is a Northwestern home game.

Their other stated goal is to take some juice out of the secondary market. Considering one of the biggest elements in bidding up prices in the secondary market are fans from other schools, this seems like a win-win for NU - more revenue, and more home-team fans.

by Alex B. on Aug 13, 2013 2:59 pm • linkreport

Exactly. With presumably 465$ in pure profit from a 500$ bid you could simply buy the college student a CABI key and whole lot of bus/train fare.

I mean I guess DC could do whatever they want with the money but if you could definitely funnel it to different transportation related projects you'd see a virtuous cycle begin.

by drumz on Aug 13, 2013 3:02 pm • linkreport

I'm never one to volunteer to pay more just so I can give DC *even more* of my hard earned money, but I think if the issue is to discourage people from having cars that they don't drive very often, there's really a two-fold approach.

First, raise the cost of an RPP in any area that is deemed "high volume". DDOT could come up with whatever formula they like to decide this, but I'd think the easiest way would be to price it off of the number of auto registrations there are that are in the same "square" - the city is already cut up into squares for tax IDs that mostly line up to a block. Figure out how many parking spaces there are on that square - i.e., ten spaces on each side of Square X, less five spaces for a bus zone on one side, so 35 total spaces, to use nice easy numbers. Once the number of auto registrations on that square hits, say 42 (120% of the number of spaces on the square), cost per permit for a first permit for a house goes up from $35 to $75 when the permit gets renewed. Cost per permit for a second or third permit per house goes up a lot further, say to $150 each. This could be progressive to have higher costs at 150%, 200%, and 300%+ as many registrations as parking spaces on the square. This way, even if you live in a zone where RPP permits might be in high demand, like Zone 2 due to Georgetown and Dupont and Logan, if you live in a less-dense part of that ward you wouldn't be paying more since parking on your block is not as problematic.

Second, it's time to change the abandoned auto policy. I happen to live on a small street in Zone 2 that is, as best I can tell, the ONLY street for a dozen blocks in any direction that is just regular, Zone 2 parking - no street sweeping, no AM/PM Rush, no snow emergency zone - just Zone 2 only. And it's become a dumping ground for occasional drivers in my area. People who own a car to use once a month, or once every few months, will park there all spring, summer and fall because then they don't even have to move it to the other side of the street once a week for sweeping. There's one girl who lives five blocks away who I finally met one day last December when she asked me to jump off her VW. She'd parked the car there in August. I asked her where she lived, and she said she was over in Logan. I asked her why she'd left her car on my block for four months, and she said it was the only place where she didn't have to move it that she'd found anywhere in the area. I asked why she didn't just sell the car if she only drove it a few times a year, and she said she did use it to drive home from school for Christmas and for the summer, and she needed it for the summer.

I didn't tell her that I'd reported the car abandoned before, and they told me that as long as the car is legally plated and not vandalized, it can literally park in that spot the day it gets registered and sit there until the day the plates expire and nothing can be done. We should change this law to say any car that doesn't move for 10 days can be ticketed as abandoned, and any car that is still there 21 days after being ticketed can be impounded. If you're not going to drive at least once every 31 days, you shouldn't be able to keep a car in the city.

by ShawGuy on Aug 13, 2013 3:11 pm • linkreport

Interesting idea - something different, for sure. Kudos to Brian for proposing something like this - it's far more creative than anything we see coming from the John A. Wilson Building, that's for sure!

Frankly, I could see my own situation being one where I'm shut out of a permit, as I live in the "low rent corner" of my comparatively wealthy neighborhood in Dupont. In a cluster of blocks populated with wealthy socialites, art patrons, federal judges, K Street attorneys, and whatnot, somebody who works in the non-profit sector will likely find himself shut out of an affordable RPP under a Dutch auction system. But that's the breaks - perhaps I don't need a car that much (though it would put a big crimp in some of my hillclimb training on the bike - you can't properly train for the long-haul climbs on the short pitches within earshot of DC).

The one thing I would do, if this system were to cater to residents, is completely forbid restaurants and commercial entities from acquiring RPPs or VPPs. Additionally, I've always felt that businesses that use valet services should only be allowed to have said service if they have a contract with an off-street garage. When valets take away scarce RPP zoned spots (often using some cutthroat tactics to block multiple spots), it seems a bit unfair to those of us with RPPs. Yes, it's crying over spilled milk, and I can usually find a spot that's a short walk away, but still...

But this speaks to Andrew's question, "is there a good argument for why bidding should be reserved for residents?" It's a fair question with a simple answer: most business owners, be they restauranteurs, doctors, lawyers, lobbyists, etc., don't live at their offices. (OK, some seem to, but that's another story.) Residential Parking Permits are meant for residents, not for workers, employees, and the lot. Sure, these residents don't own the street, but they spend most of their off-hours and sleeping hours in their neighborhoods, and should be given the right of first (or only) refusal for the RPPs.

Frankly, I tend to be of the opinion that the initial RPP should be more expensive (e.g. $50-75/year), and each additional RPP be double the other's price, or even more. And VPPs should run at a minimum of $100/year in the most in-demand areas (e.g. Georgetown, Dupont, Barracks Row) to prevent abuse. Yes, there could be some variation for extreme low income situations for the RPPs, but I think that forcing the choice of whether a person truly needs a personal car might open the dialogue to re-thinking the public transit matrix and service model in The District.

Yes, this system would put street parking into the realm of the wealthy in many areas of DC. It could be abused, just as the current system is. But it's different, and that's OK.

by randomduck on Aug 13, 2013 3:11 pm • linkreport

@ShawGuy - It was my understanding that one could only park in a space, even a zone space, for up to 72 hours. I'd always assumed that this was true but practically never enforced. Does anybody know if that's a correct undersatnding?

by Distantantennas on Aug 13, 2013 3:46 pm • linkreport


"it's far more creative than anything we see coming from the John A. Wilson Building, that's for sure!"

I'd hate for the bar to be that low for judging public policy!

by Andy on Aug 13, 2013 3:56 pm • linkreport

@Distantantennas, That regulation was repealed over a decade ago.

by OtherMike on Aug 13, 2013 4:05 pm • linkreport

This absolutely should be the system used for Metro parking lots, which would probably be a good demonstration of the principle. In Metro lots, there isn't a constituency who feels entitled to use of the spaces for free and there aren't any nonsensical zone boundaries to deal with, and there isn't as much of the newcomer-shut-out problem.

For implementation, there's also what eBay calls a Dutch auction: up until the auction end, you bid whatever is your maximum price. At close, the bids are sorted from highest to lowest, and if there are n spaces available, the top n bids all pay the price that the nth highest bidder bid. This way, you don't have to keep checking in throughout the whole auction duration to find when the price hits your maximum.

by thm on Aug 13, 2013 4:16 pm • linkreport

@OtherMike - I had no idea. Thanks for enlightening me. What was the justification?

by Distantantennas on Aug 13, 2013 4:17 pm • linkreport

I would add that there should be a good chunk of parking in every zone either commercial districts of the main-est roads that are metered only. I think an 80/20 split going to maybe 70/30 in the more commecial corridors might work.

by Alan B. on Aug 13, 2013 4:18 pm • linkreport

ShawGuy -- nothing prevents creating smaller zones now. Ward 4 RPP subzones are mapped to ANC boundaries. So that's four different ones. I think it might be like that in W6 too.

and yes, there used to be a 24 hour or 72 hour rule on "abandonment". It needs to be brought back. Parking a car on the street for using it a couple times a year is a poor use of the space. And if the person had to pay a lot more money for doing so, it would change their calculus.

by Richard Layman on Aug 13, 2013 4:19 pm • linkreport

@Richard Layman - Maybe it should be a week instead of 72 hours? We use our sole car for the family about once a week and take the bus other times. This would be more in line with areas that have street sweeping to move vehicles. Even someone who goes away for a long weekend should not have to put their car in a lot.

by GP Steve on Aug 13, 2013 4:29 pm • linkreport

At least a week. Many people have to travel for work frequently. You'd probably see a pretty big pushback from anything less than that although otherwise I think most people would agree with it (until they get towed of course).

by Alan B. on Aug 13, 2013 4:32 pm • linkreport

I'd be more than fine with a week. Heck, even ten days. Everyone takes a long vacation every now and again. I'd even be fine with Parking Enforcement issuing a warning the first time. Maybe even the first TWO times, each calendar year, that you leave the car for more than ten days in one spot. But after that, it needs to start getting serious, quick - $100 for the first violation, $100 for the second, $250 for the third, and then after that your RPP gets revoked for the rest of the year. If you're going more than ten days without moving your car even an inch and getting *caught* (which likely wouldn't happen unless someone reported you, which they probably won't do outside of high-demand areas) six or more times in the course of a year, you need to re-evaluate if you really need to own that car.

by ShawGuy on Aug 13, 2013 4:43 pm • linkreport

@distantanennas, The repeal of the 72-hour rule was definitely under the radar. IIRC, the concern was that this regulation was problematic to car-lite households who didn’t use their car to commute and lived in neighborhoods where they did not have access to off-street parking. For households that mostly used their car on weekends, the 72 hour rule, which applied both in RPP zones and non-RPP zones, seemed excessive. For the most part, it was only enforced when there was a complaint filed.

@Richard Layman, My understanding at all the RPP zones are mapped to ward boundaries, and all VPP zones are mapped to ANC boundaries. I have not seen anything in the RPP description to indicate that Ward 4 is treated any differently from any of the other wards. Signs would indicate the ANC since, that information is necessary for visitors using a VPP.

by OtherMike on Aug 13, 2013 4:54 pm • linkreport

If you only use your car once a week you should probably re-evaluate whether owning that car is worth it. Maybe it is if you own it free and clear, but even then maybe not.

Zipcar, Car2Go, cabs, and Hotwire for a rental car when you need to take a trip. Between registration, insurance, changing the oil, and the hassle of street sweeping I save a bunch.

by MLD on Aug 13, 2013 4:57 pm • linkreport

@MLD - While generally I would agree with you (and went car free for several years before the kids) if you use it every weekend or in my case have kids with car seats installed, then one car may make sense.

by GP Steve on Aug 13, 2013 5:04 pm • linkreport

In July 2003, Mendelson, along with five other councilmembers, introduced a bill, B15-0412, “Parking Amendment Act of 2003,” which would have reinstated the 72-hour rule: “No person shall park a motor vehicle on any roadway for more than seventy-two (72) consecutive hours,” along with provisions for dealing with vehicles parked on private property without the consent of the owner for more than 5 days, and the rules for removal and disposal of the vehicles.

Hearings were held in September 2003, but DCLIMS does not show any council action on the bill.

@MLD, Many multi-modal households use transit on weekdays and but need their vehicle on the weekend, and for many families, the options that you mention are simply not satisfactory.

by OtherMike on Aug 13, 2013 5:17 pm • linkreport

Agreed GP Steve and OtherMike - in my part of Shaw, we have pretty easy access to the Green and Yellow Lines (Shaw and Convention Center stops), relatively easy access to the Blue/Orange Lines (McPherson stop) and Blue/Orange/Red at Chinatown. They're all within a fifteen to twenty minute walk, and a quick ride on Capital Bikeshare or one of the many bus lines. So, I know a LOT of families on my block who take transit to work with "weekend cars" to run errands, go places with the kids, pick up groceries, etc. And I understand that for many of them, it makes sense to have a "weekend car" instead of using Zipcar or Car2Go and I don't begrudge them that option. So, a 72 hour rule does seem a bit strict.

However, a week or ten days is more than fair, especially if it comes with a warning or two before the actual ticket, and the law is written to say if you show proof of out of town travel (like a plane ticket for a vacation) you can get out of a fine if you get hit while you're away on holiday.

I can assure you, though, even if it only made 5% of cars go away because it made it a hassle to own something you don't use, 5% more spaces is the difference for a LOT of neighborhoods. And, I think it helps the taxpayers too - I know a LOT of streets in my area that have petitioned for street sweeping purely to deal with abandoned / very infrequently used cars (abandoned or not, two tickets for not moving for sweeping can get you booted on the day the second one turns 31 days old, and a booted car becomes an impounded car within 24 hours almost every time - they don't like to leave the boots out overnight because people mess with them). We're voting on requesting sweeping as a street in September to deal with that very problem. It's an incredibly expensive way to resolve it, but we don't have any other choice than to request an expensive city service we don't really want or need because it has the indirect benefit of dealing with the abandoned cars on the street, and there's no other way to do it. The city will ONLY mark a car as abandoned and take it away if the tags are expired, if it comes back stolen when they run the plates, if the car is "visually inoperable" (flat tires - a fried engine doesn't matter) or "attracting crime" (broken windows). Otherwise, it sits till the tags go bad.

by ShawGuy on Aug 13, 2013 5:45 pm • linkreport

Parking has gotten more complicated, not easier or more equitable with all the tinkering that's happened since the 90s. This just seems like one more complicated idea, and one that is likely to have major income equity issues. there always will be people who need cars--the service business es that populate DC during the day are good examples and many are DC residents who have vehicles and not all of them live in private homes with garages, etc. like a great many efforts here, this one assumes that everyone is part of the same relatively affluent bubble, and that even more affluent people can drive up the price of everything.

by Rich on Aug 13, 2013 5:48 pm • linkreport

@Rich - I agree with your statement. That being said, I think the bar for change might be much lower. Look at the grocery bag tax. 5 cents per bag, which most people could easily afford has significantly changed behavior. If RPP were a little more expensive ($100/yr? $120?), then perhaps it might be high enough change behavior by being thought of as more than a trivial charge of the current $35.

by GP Steve on Aug 13, 2013 6:08 pm • linkreport

Parking has gotten more complicated, not easier or more equitable with all the tinkering that's happened since the 90s.

I think you're confusing cause and effect. The demand for parking has increased dramatically in the past 20 years. I won't defend all of the "tinkering" -- much of it is misguided -- but it's about trying to increase the supply in the face of ever-rising demand. It's not like we can magically solve our parking problem by going back to the rules from 20 years ago.

by contrarian on Aug 13, 2013 6:34 pm • linkreport

@GP Steve, Whose behavior is likely to change with an increase in cost of $65-85 a year. Is it the RPP holder that generally parks off-street, but pays the $35 a year so that they can park the car on the street and have visitors or repair people use their off-street space, rather than get a visitor permit? That is common in my neighborhood, probably the vast majority of households. If these are the households whose behavior will change when you increase the cost of the RPP, it will have little or no effect on the availability of off-street parking. They might pass on the costlier RPP and ask their visitors to park on the street.

Or do you think the increase of $65-$85 a year will change the vehicle ownership decisions for a large number of households, or the decision to create (get a curb cut, or excavate to level an area and create a space off the alley and give up a large portion of the back yard) or rent off-street parking, which would probably be significantly more than $5.50 to $10.00 a month. I also suspect it is unlikely to change the behavior of the resident who lives on an RPP street that does not have a parking shortage, but uses the RPP to drive to the shops or Metro.

by OtherMike on Aug 13, 2013 6:43 pm • linkreport

I don't dislike this idea, but I worry about two things: credit cards and the internet. Is all of this going to require users to have those things? Because not everyone does. Then there are the other problems people have brought up.

Here's how I would handle RPP pricing.

You give the city your address and they calculate the number of parking spaces within 0.1 miles and the number of residents who already have an RPP withing 0.1 miles. They use the ratio of those two numbers to come up with a price based on a table of prices that are determined beforehand. As the ratio of RPPs to spaces goes up, so does your price. You can pay that price for an RPP or not. Your RPP would only be good within that 0.1 mile radius (parking enforcement would know by your sticker/bar code/GPS).

This has the disadvantage of not limiting the number of RPP's in any area, as people may continue to buy them despite the increased cost. But it means that the system works just as it does now in that you ask for a permit and they tell you how much it costs and then you buy it (or not). No waiting lists or tracking of prices online.

It would increase prices where parking is scarce, and thus should reduce demand. It would limit use outside of one's own neighborhood (this is really separate, but a good idea anyway). It would be fair, people wouldn't have to bid against wealthier residents of far off neighborhoods (or anyone really) and your parking price would be relevant to you.

Also, this deals with the long-term parking issue. It still drives up cost where parking is scarce.

by David C on Aug 13, 2013 8:43 pm • linkreport

Your RPP would only be good within that 0.1 mile radius (parking enforcement would know by your sticker/bar code/GPS).

But how would you know? I could see a stream of complaints from people who parked .11 miles from their home and came back to a ticket. And how is .1 miles measured? From any corner of the property? The front door? The epicenter?

I think you're on the right track though. I'd rather see zones aligned with ANC SMD boundaries, that's easier for residents and still reasonably small. There are roughly 300 SMD's in DC, so the average size is 0.23 square miles, which is roughly the same size as a circle 0.25 miles in radius. I agree that the dutch auction idea is unnecessarily complicated, once you decide to create a market in parking there are lots of pretty simple ways of implementing it.

Tying parking zones to ANC boundaries would have the benefit of emphasizing the political nature of public parking, which I think would be a good thing. Decisions made at the ANC level would have a direct effect on the residents. Having a market for parking would have the even bigger benefit of providing real-time, real-world data on the supply and demand for parking in every part of the city.

by contrarian on Aug 13, 2013 11:04 pm • linkreport

Excellent discussion on essentially the philosophy of car ownership; I hope everyone in the country is reading it. When you buy a car, the accessories are not all part of the package, including parking spaces everywhere you wish to go and in front of your house. They cost extra. Clearing the snow from the street and putting up lawn chairs does not convey private ownership to a piece of the public commons.

by Lisa on Aug 14, 2013 9:11 am • linkreport

But how would you know? I could see a stream of complaints from people who parked .11 miles from their home and came back to a ticket. And how is .1 miles measured? From any corner of the property? The front door? The epicenter?

I guess you'd know the same way you know the current boundaries, you'd have to find out. It would be pretty easy for them to send you a map of your unique parking area with the permit. Maybe it could even be printed on it. As to how it's measured, any of those would do. That's for council staff to hash out. The problem is kind of solved by the city sending you the map.

by David C on Aug 14, 2013 9:15 am • linkreport

ANC works but you couldnt use SMD. In some places that's three or four square blocks and im guessing several of them already have areas of restricted parking.

by Alan B. on Aug 14, 2013 9:29 am • linkreport

We all ALREADY pay for RPP in the form of taxes, which keep going up. I own a car, but I have no children and my taxes go to fund a huge public school system which I do not use. Why stop with auctioning RPP's? Why not start charging --though auction for public education ? Then there is the parking police, who are extremely vigilant in extracting additional revenue from automobile owners. My point is that we PAY taxes for city services and amenities--which includes the ability to park my car on the street near my house without any usurious added fees.

by JOHN HINES on Aug 14, 2013 9:46 am • linkreport

'We all ALREADY pay for RPP in the form of taxes, which keep going up."

actually didnt DC just cut its sales tax? But if thats the issue, would it make sense to charge more for RPPs and use the revenue to cut taxes?

"I own a car, but I have no children and my taxes go to fund a huge public school system which I do not use. Why stop with auctioning RPP's? Why not start charging --though auction for public education ?"

Thats a question worth asking. I think the answer suggests itself though - we legally require families to educate their kids - and children have a role in the future, in maintaining society, that exceeds even that of the automobile. Though I do admit that autos are precious, loveable, and should not be abused or neglected.

by AWalkerIntheCity on Aug 14, 2013 9:51 am • linkreport

In addition to what Walker said, if you live in an area where it's difficult to find parking then you're already paying extra for the spot. It's just your time that is the cost rather than dollars. That may be fine for people but there are ways to make it easier for someone to park closer to their door. It just requires changing the cost.

Anyway, RPP is paid for via the 35$ fee not any other taxes. At least that's the reason for the fee. If the costs are administering the program are actually higher than that then maybe the fee should go up for that reason.

by drumz on Aug 14, 2013 10:04 am • linkreport


Taxes go towards roads and general infrastructure. I don't feel you can logically claim that taxes pay for parking as the city charges the $35 fee.

Education has ancillary and spillover effects that are beneficial regardless of whether one has children. As AWITC notes, we legally require children to attend school as well.

I agree that a Dutch Auction is problematic in many areas and isn't the solution. However, it's apparent the status quo is not the solution either.

by Andy on Aug 14, 2013 10:13 am • linkreport

hmm...Fair point(s).

by JOHN HINES on Aug 14, 2013 10:15 am • linkreport

This is perfect.

If by "perfect" you mean yet another opportunity where the people with the money get to cut to the front of the line for something.

After all, once rent controlled apartments are illegally ripped off the market, we want to make sure there are Mercedes, Lexus and Infinities parked around the place, not 10 year old Hondas.

While we are at it, why not Dutch auction fire protection and police protections. Want a road in your neighborhood, bid via DDOT. We can take care of the trees on your street, how much are you willing to bid on it?

Again, another bunch of people with money saying "me, me, me.... I'll pay, I don't care."

by Mike on Aug 14, 2013 11:51 am • linkreport

If by "perfect" you mean yet another opportunity where the people with the money get to cut to the front of the line for something.

A: I don't think anyone has said this is "perfect". It's one example of how to allocate space.

B: Yes, people will be paying for stickers (and in turn, parking spots) with money. Right now people pay very little money and in turn often spend several minutes looking for a spot near their house and several more minutes now walking a few blocks to get to their door. If they have a bunch of stuff they need to carry inside they're better off double parking (holding up traffic) running the stuff inside and then finding a real space. Maybe that's more equitable than just figuring out what the price of a spot is but obviously lots of people have problems with it otherwise we wouldn't be talking about ways to allocate spaces differently.

by drumz on Aug 14, 2013 11:59 am • linkreport

C: and again, we don't talk about auctioning off school spots or fire protections because one can reasonably see how those benefit everybody while parking is different because parking is a necessary part of driving and it's not exactly clear how more driving benefits the city at large. Moreover since this is parking private vehicles in a public ROW. It's very reasonable to see that street parking isn't nearly as sacrosanct as police/fire protection or education.

by drumz on Aug 14, 2013 12:03 pm • linkreport


So in order to solve the problem you support allowing a system that directly benefits the wealthier residents of the neighborhood. Want fairness, charge for spaces based on income. We'll see how the upper part of the income spectrum feels about that one.

by Mike on Aug 14, 2013 12:12 pm • linkreport


we dont auction services we expect to provide for everyone.

not everyone can get a parking space on the street (and the attempt to try to keep them from being scarce, has resulted in opposition to/limits on development, thus raising rents and making housing more scarce than it needs to be)

If the concern for the poor is the main thing, why not just use that revenue to cut taxes on the poor. Or put it into the affordable housing fund?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Aug 14, 2013 12:18 pm • linkreport


The article itself has suggestions to mitigate the impacts of an auction for poorer residents (which would be a fairly small number anyway if you look at the places where it's hardest to park it usually doesn't correlate with poorer areas of the city.) Whatever you're arguing against isn't found anywhere in the post or comments.

by drumz on Aug 14, 2013 1:06 pm • linkreport

Journeymen and others who need to park in RPP zones could be eligible for Car2Go-style "zone 9" permits.

As Andrew points out, technology (particularly camera automated enforcement) allows permit zones to be done away with altogether: Santa Monica ties a residential parking permit to an address and the two-block radius around it.

"I own a car, but I have no children and my taxes go to fund a huge public school system which I do not use."

And I do not own a car, but my taxes go to fund a huge road network which I use only incidentally. You use more roads (and 20 bikes fit into the space that one car takes), you should pay more. C'est la vie.

Part of the point of raising fees is to discourage car ownership and to allocate the scarce resource of curb parking spaces. In a market economy, the most efficient allocation is achieved through prices. Subsidizing things -- particularly luxury goods like cars which are largely owned by wealthier individuals -- by pricing them below cost is not exactly an equitable outcome to begin with.

by Payton on Aug 14, 2013 1:15 pm • linkreport

Other Mike -- in ward 4, RPP zones are mapped to ANCs. I don't know the details. Just the reality of the signs. My particular block isn't part of RPP. I have photos, but untagged...

2. WRT the various points about off-street parking availability and what people do with it, in my general testimony from last Dec. at the City Council parking hearing, I listed dozens of best practices from other jurisdictions.

In North America, Toronto has the highest pricing for RPP. There are three rates. The highest rate, about $50/month, is for households that have on-site off-street parking.

That would definitely change the way people are using/selling parking those spaces.

Of course, this matters only for the blocks where the demand is high, not for blocks, like mine, which have available spaces even though many households have multiple cars (+ some households have usable off-street parking and use it, but other households like mine, have the potential for it, but don't have it).

I don't think Toronto ups the price for add'l cars per household or by size.

3. Relatedly, some people mentioned different rates depending on neighborhood demand and density. Seattle I think and Vancouver definitely have like three different prices, based on these factors.

SF just has a higher rate than DC, a bit over $100, which is the highest I think, outside of Toronto.

by Richard Layman on Aug 14, 2013 1:15 pm • linkreport

@Richard Layman, The RPP (Resident Parking Permit) zones are for the entire Ward. The Visitor permits (VPPs) are only valid in the ANC in which the host resides. That is why the signs have been changed to show the ANC. That way a visitor knows whether the permit his or her host provided is valid in a particular spot. A resident with a Residential Parking Permit can park for more than two hours on any RPP street in the ward, but someone visiting a resident who wants to park for more than two hours can use the Visitor Parking Permit only in the host’s ANC.

@contrarian, @Alan B. As to whether the smaller zones should be mapped to ANCs or SMDs, I would say neither. Mapping needs to be carefully done, and each area must be assessed individually to take into account many factors. As Alan B. points out, some SMDs are quite small. On the other hand, some SMDs are large, or oddly shaped, and residents at the far end of the SMD commute by SOV to the Metro, for example, at the other end of the SMD. Should the residents near the Metro pay higher RPP fees so that someone at the far end of their SMD has easy and relatively cheap Metro parking? As to ANCs, there is far more intrazone commuting by SOV within ANCs than in any individual SMD, and for that reason, it would not solve the intrazone commutting issue. Arlington has mapped small RPP zones and these were carefully mapped to make certain that it addresses both spillover parking in low density neighborhoods, and intrazone commuting from low density areas to offices and transit, or from low density areas to other low density areas closer to offices and transit.

by OtherMike on Aug 14, 2013 1:53 pm • linkreport

People should be incentivized to have shorter cars. Someone with a compact Smart Fortwo that's 8 feet long shouldn't have to pay as much as someone trying to park a 19 foot long Ford Excursion SUV. I mean you could literally park twice as many of the former on the same block. Alternatively maybe the city could just give you some kind of credit or something when you buy a shorter car, that way you'll hear about it at the dealership during purchase and it's more likely to influence your decision.

by Doug on Aug 14, 2013 8:30 pm • linkreport

Doug, that's a great point. Perhaps factor the length (and weight) into the cost of registration.

by David C on Aug 14, 2013 8:33 pm • linkreport

Weight is already a factor, though perhaps they could be more granular in weight categories. ( Though length is interesting. I've parked car2go in spaces where most cars wouldn't fit. However, maybe length should only relate to RPP fee.

by GP Steve on Aug 14, 2013 10:02 pm • linkreport

OtherMike -- that's not clear from the signs, at all. I am going on a trip so I don't have time to get into this. W4 doesn't even participate in the so called performance parking program, and this is the way that the signs have read for all of the 5 years I've lived in the ward, and likely longer.

by Richard Layman on Aug 15, 2013 11:38 am • linkreport

The tax/education thing is a total misnomer. Don't think of it as taxes to pay for other peoples children, think of it as paying back for an education that other people provided you for free.

by Alan B. on Aug 15, 2013 11:54 am • linkreport

@Richard Layman. In December 2007, the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) launched a one year Visitor Parking Pass (VPP) Pilot in Ward 4, which has been renewed every year since. The Ward 4 Visitor Parking Pass displays the resident’s Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) and allows visitor parking for periods longer than two hours on blocks zoned RPP within the resident's ANC boundaries during RPP hours. It is not tied to any particular vehicle or visitor.

At that time, they added the ANC to the Ward 4 RPP signs. According to DDOT: “The addition of the ANC designation to Zone 4 RPP signs has no impact on Zone 4 RPP permit holders.” The Zone 4 RPP permit holders can park for periods longer than two hours on blocks zoned RPP within the entire ward. This Ward 4 pilot visitor parking permit program was later extended to some other areas, and they currently are proposing to extend it city-wide.

To be clear, the ANC has been included on the Ward 4 RPP signs since December 2007 to show people using Visitor Parking Permits where they can park for longer than two hours, and is does not affect the area in with Zone 4 RPP-holders can park for longer than two hours (then entire ward).

by OtherMike on Aug 15, 2013 1:10 pm • linkreport

Interesting. Thanks.

And seemingly likely to have no impact. I don't really see the purpose. Because the amount of "abuse" by people holding visitor permits has to be absolutely minimal, unless people are concerned about out-of-Petworth area people parking all day by the Metro.

Since I don't have a car and a permit, I don't know how the wording in the materials that an RPP holder gets covers this.

But from the signs, you would never know. Nothing on the sign indicates that the zone limitation applies to visitors only.

by Richard Layman on Aug 15, 2013 1:54 pm • linkreport

I just emailed DDOT. So in the short term, they should:
1) Not expand the program city wide
2) Charge a fee for the permit. Even charging the same $35 they charge for RPP for a guest permit is better than free.

Long term, day or short period passes using internet print out or pay by app/phone with a fee per day.

by GP Steve on Aug 15, 2013 2:13 pm • linkreport

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