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Why weekend parking is still free

Among the bazillion ideas submitted for public discussion during the Metro budget hearings was a proposal to charge for parking on weekends at the Metro lots and garages. On the editorial page of Thursday's Post a writer questions why the transit authority decided not to do that.

This is the letter:

Metro's free-parking blunder
Metro is raising fares at the front door and letting money go out the back door.

On Sunday, my husband and I drove to the Shady Grove Metro parking lot to board the Red Line for downtown Gallery Place. We paid the new 18 percent higher fare and six hours later returned and left without being charged the $4.75 parking fee. This is usually the case on weekends and late at night. Does this make any sense?

Could it be that Metro does not want to hire personnel to staff the parking lots? Come on. In this technological world, they aren't really needed. The present signage is clear: You need a SmarTrip card to exit the parking lot. If this is really a problem for those without SmarTrip cards, put in a credit card machine. It would pay for itself in time.

I don't relish paying $4.75 if I don't have to, but look at the big picture: When Metro is raising rates because of budget deficits and a safety record that worries many riders, I wonder why management ever lets people park for free. Metro management needs to look beyond fares as the answer to budget deficits.
Julie A. Trueman, Germantown

DG: Metro would love to make more money. Board members and staff were virtually begging the public to present ideas on how to squeeze some more cash out of any part of the system.

The staff did consider the idea of charging on weekends but decided that if Metro did that, it could wind up losing money. Their thinking illustrates some of the difficulties of setting prices for transit services.

Staffing the parking areas. After all these years, many people still get in the exit line at the lots and garages without realizing they need a SmarTrip card, or in some cases a credit card, to make their payment and get the gate to open. Plus, the exit machines sometimes break down. Whenever Metro charges for parking, it needs to have parking personnel available to handle such problems.

Parking at some stations might cover the personnel costs, say at Greenbelt on an afternoon when there's a Nationals game. But systemwide, it wouldn't be worth it.

Why not drive? If people calculated that they had to pay for parking on weekends, then pay for a round trip Metrorail ride, many would figure out that it's cheaper to drive. The District enforces its parking meter rules on Saturdays in many areas, but not on Sundays. So driving in might not only be cheaper but also easier. Metro would get no revenue at all from people who see it that way.

Metro did just raise the price of reserved parking by $10, to $65 per month, because the demand was there.

Note on parking: Metro does have plans for a long-needed fix in the parking system. The transit authority is going to greatly expand the number of stations where drivers can use credit cards, as well as SmarTrip cards, to pay for parking. Right now, only a half dozen stations have an exit lane that accepts both types of payments. They are Anacostia, Franconia-Springfield, Largo, Vienna, Shady Grove and New Carrollton.

By Robert Thomson  | July 1, 2010; 10:15 AM ET
Categories:  Metro  | Tags:  Dr. Gridlock  
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Next: Chat about getting away for the 4th


Dr. Gridlock, I have a question not involving Metro parking. Do you or your staff plan on doing a follow-up article on the new "Barnes dance" intersection that DDOT recently installed near the Verizon Center? I'm curious whether both pedestrians and drivers have figured it out and whether it has impacted both (either?) congestion and safety? Thanks.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | July 1, 2010 11:23 AM | Report abuse

Since the traffic enforcement officers are no longer stationed at this intersection, the "no turn" signs have become ignored, just like most other road laws and rules here in DC. MPD is apparently not in the business of traffic enforcement.

Posted by: nocando | July 1, 2010 12:53 PM | Report abuse

Metro would definitely lose money on the VA side if they charged for parking on the weekends. For most of the stops, it's just as convenient to access I-66 as it is to access a metro stop.

You've already loaded your whole fam into the car (if you weren't, then the parking issue would be moot). Now, gee whiz. Should I unload the car, wait 30 minutes each way for a train with a broken air conditioner, pay a round-trip fare for 5, AND pay for parking? Or should I just get on I-66 and be done with it?

Well, duh.

Posted by: afsljafweljkjlfe | July 1, 2010 12:58 PM | Report abuse

afsljafweljkjlfe, the thing is, I think people who think that way are already just going to drive into the city. It's the people that don't want to deal with driving into the city, finding parking, figuring out where to go, etc. that park and ride metro in. Some also like the experience (believe it or not it can be fun for the kids to "ride on a train"). I doubt charging 1 to 2 dollars on the weekend for parking would decrease ridership significantly. I'm dissapointed metro did not institute this, but was so adamant about the 20 cent peak of the peak charge, where we don't get any peak service.

Posted by: UMDTerpsGirl | July 1, 2010 1:27 PM | Report abuse

On weekends parking would keep me in my car. By the time you buy farecards for a family group going downtown, say to a Verizon Center event you've and paid $4.75 for parking you're approaching driving down and paying for parking in DC. Plus it's less physical effort.

Unless weekend lots are filling up I think give riders a break and keep the parking free.

Posted by: RedBird27 | July 1, 2010 4:30 PM | Report abuse

UMDTerpsGirl: I often take the Green Line into DC on weekends because the parking is free. However, if I had to pay for parking at the metro stations, then I would probably drive into the city instead. Traffic between PG County and DC just isn't heavy enough to justify taking Metro for the sole purpose of avoiding traffic.

Yes, street parking can be difficult to find in DC, but on weekend days when residential parking restrictions are relaxed, it's usually possible to find a free parking space.

Posted by: stuckman | July 1, 2010 9:43 PM | Report abuse

Regarding the 7th and H "Barnes Dance," I was there before a Mystics games recently on the weekend ans saw at least 5 cars making turns within 3 minutes. The District could probably make a lot in traffic fines at that intersection.

Posted by: NovaCath1 | July 2, 2010 12:17 AM | Report abuse

The District could make a lot of money from traffic fines at ANY intersection if they decided to start enforcing traffic laws -- particularly the rules about stopping in the intersection (what NY calls "Don't Block the Box").

Posted by: robwilli | July 2, 2010 9:38 AM | Report abuse

stuckman, I definately agree with your arguments, but is 1 or 2 dollars really your breaking point in deciding to drive in vs. taking metro? It just seems like if you aren't driving in already when you already feel like driving is probably easier, then 1 dollar shouldn't make that much of a difference. Is it just the principle of having to pay for parking that would drive you to your car at that point?

I think my thoughts on this are probably biased as I live on the Red line and I don't think it's that easy to drive into the city (say to the National Mall) from Glenmont or Shady Grove and personally think it's faster to take metro a lot of the time (obviously this seriously depends on scheduled track work that has become so regular on weekends now). It's at these stations were you get a lot more tourists, people driving from upper montgomery county, frederick county, howard county, etc. These are people that don't even want to try to drive into the city, and I think it would be a great opportunity for metro to generate some revenue by charging these people to park. Maybe just charging for parking at the end of the line stations would have been the solution.

Anyhow, not trying to start an argument, just my thoughts.

Posted by: UMDTerpsGirl | July 2, 2010 10:56 AM | Report abuse

I think a lot of it depends on where you're driving from and where you're going, as well as the number of people involved. Let's say you're a family of four who would park at Huntington to go to a Saturday afternoon Nationals game. (I picked Huntington over Franconia-Springfield because any rational person who would drive to Springfield will drive the short extra distance to Huntington to avoid needing to change trains twice on a weekend.) Metro fare from Huntington to Navy Yard on a weekend is $2.15 each way per person, which means for a family of four you'd be spending $17.20 on subway fare. If parking costs the normal $4.50, you're looking at $21.70 in Metro costs; if you reduce the parking rate on weekends, it's still around $20 to take the subway.

In contrast, you can park in a lot near the ballpark for $15. If you know the area, you can park on the street for free if you don't mind risking getting bird crap all over your car, or (if it's a 4:10 PM game like tomorrow's) you can park on the street for less than $2.00 using meters depending on what time you get there.

From my point of view, even the $15 to park in a lot is a reasonable deal compared to the $21.70 for Metro plus Metro parking, especially when you consider that driving is faster. You can be back near the Huntington Metro in 15 minutes by car, whereas on the trains you're looking at around 45 minutes most weekends depending on the size of the crowd, whether you hit the stops at the right time to change trains quickly, etc.

Of course if you're going downtown, say to a Caps game, parking is more expensive ($15 is the norm due to there being almost no on-street parking that allows you to remain in the space for the duration of a game) and that's why I said "it depends on where you are going." It's also fair to consider that finding on-street parking can be a hassle and that some garages are highly undesirable because they don't allow you to park your own car (I refuse to use any garage where I have to let them park the car for me because I don't want their people messing with my cars). It's also fair to consider that people coming from Virginia, as I am, or from PG County will have an easier time driving to downtown or to the ballpark than people from Montgomery County or Baltimore, and that the hassle factor needs to be considered in that respect. It's also fair to consider whether you plan to have a few beers or whatever.

But I think Dr. Gridlock's paragraph captioned "Why Not Drive?" underscores WMATA's dilemma perfectly. There's a fine balancing act to be considered.

Posted by: 1995hoo | July 2, 2010 11:59 AM | Report abuse

UMDTerpsGirl: I would pay $1 for metro parking on weekends, but not the regular $4.50. However, charging $1 for weekend parking wouldn't be worth the trouble for Metro, because of all the problems it would cause for weekend travelers who don't have SmartTrip cards. (I know that SmartTrip cards are easy to get, but people from outside the area are not going to understand this -- Metro is confusing for them as it is.)

1995hoo: It's true that I would be more likely to pay for weekend parking if I lived along the I-270 corridor, where driving is a hassle but Metro parking is abundant. I am surprised at your comment about it being easy to drive into the city from Virginia -- every time I've had to drive through the city into Virginia, crossing the bridges (and driving down the DC surface streets approaching the bridges) has been hour-long nightmare. It seems like Metro would have been far easier, if it was an option for me.

Posted by: stuckman | July 2, 2010 1:02 PM | Report abuse

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