Effective this week, there will be no more “free on Saturdays” when it comes to the city’s parking meters. And, except for Sundays, everybody—including downtown Washington residents —will have to ante up the extra $1.25 hourly fee in the city’s premium zones, while rates for standard zones will remain at 75 cents an hour.
According to Karyn LeBlanc, spokeswoman for the District Department of Transportation (DDOT), the public’s response to the changes, which goes into effect Jan. 19, has generally been positive. However, “the main concern is that people will need to carry more quarters and this is an inconvenience which we anticipated,” LeBlanc said in comments e-mailed this week to the AFRO.
LeBlanc said while the agency understands the anticipated frustration, officials are asking for motorists’ understanding and patience as they attempt to improve the parking meter system. She added that other changes will be made, including implementation of pilot programs which will feature a pay-by-cell program and in-car meter systems.
On the other hand, At-large City Councilman Kwame Brown said he’s been bombarded by drivers who believe the timing is all wrong for the meter changes.
“People are concerned about the increase,” said Brown.
“They’ll have to carry around quarters in their pockets and the city will have to make sure that the meters actually work,” he continued. “If they don’t work, people will get a ticket and then have to spend time going down to fight it.”
According to DDOT officials, who announced plans for the spike late last year, the change over is in alignment with the FY2010 Budget Support Act and will cover 100,000 parking signs and about 17,000 meters.
The premium charges, which are comparable or lower than rates in cities like Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York, also involve hours of enforcement for meters in busy District areas such as the National Mall, Adams Morgan and Georgetown’s historic district. Nighttime metered parking in those and other prime areas will be extended to 10 p.m. and Sunday parking at meters across the city will remain free of charge.
The mandate, which helps close a $104 million budget shortfall for this year, will also deter parking in individual spaces beyond the regular two-hour limit, officials say. DDOT reported that motorists who held up spaces for lengthy times —running back and forth to feed the meters—often spurred frustration among other drivers in search of short-term parking and curbside parking to patronize local businesses. The agency also contends that in searching for spaces, drivers have contributed to an increase in greenhouse emissions.
Motorist, Njah Andi described the increase as exorbitant. He also said it was “absurd” to expect people to pay for parking on weekends.
“Given the economic climate, you’d think the city was going to lower the fees for meters,” said Andi , 36, who works in District. “Things are getting hard and difficult and they shouldn’t have to increase the amount of money people already pay to use public meters.”
Meanwhile, District residents’ pocketbooks are being lightened further by a handful of other surcharges such as taxes on gasoline and cigarettes that went into effect Jan. 1. However, the most ardently opposed by shoppers is the 5 cents bag tax, which opened discussion for similar measures in Maryland and Virginia.
The District’s tax, which met the City Council’s full approval last June, is currently in full swing at grocery, liquor and drug stores. Street vendor sales are also impacted and the tax is added to every bag whether they’re paper or plastic.
Proponents see the tax as a much-needed funding source to clean up the Anacostia River, which has been a dumping ground for some 20,000 tons of trash each year.
But the Arlington, Va.-based American Chemistry Council (ACC), for example, has been long opposed to the tax. Since it went into effect, “so many more people have come out of the woodwork in opposition,” said ACC spokeswoman Jennifer Killinger. “There’s all sort of reasons why it doesn’t make sense.”
Killinger, who alluded to the slow economy, said consumers are also upset a food tax has been implemented during a recession.
Cassandra Robinson, spokeswoman for the Capital Area Food Bank in Northeast Washington, said her organization has also been sensitive to the issue. As a result, “we’re doing outreach to get bags for our clients because we realize this could be an added burden at this time,” Robinson said.