Parking – An ongoing discussion

There was a lot of conversation this past week about parking meter rates in the District based on a passing comment made by Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans regarding rolling back evening and Saturday parking meters.   This opened up a great debate and conversation.  We live and park in the city too and also understand that we serve as the economic center for the region.  We want to be priced appropriately, so that there is enough turnover to support business, but in line with the market.  We also want paying for parking to be easy and simple.  Effortless really.   

I was downtown on Sunday with my wife to do some shopping, and we drove around for 25 minutes, and finally left because we could not find a space for my tiny Smart car.  This is what often results from free, or under-priced parking.    I would have gladly paid $2 to get a parking space, and I think most other people would too.  The rub is carrying around quarters for some people, and the reliability of the meters, and we agree with that.  Who lost besides me? The retail stores did.

So why do the pilots?  I will be straight with you.  No one has “figured parking out” at this point, and each locale has slightly different issues.   Parking management is also an industry that is changing weekly/monthly.   IT companies are entering what has traditionally been a hardware based market.  Virtual systems are tying into hardware based systems, or displacing them altogether.  On top of that, you have people’s personal technology evolving at a rapid clip with smart phones, apps etc.  Last, we can’t leave people behind who don’t have the latest technology, or give them a lower quality experience.  Oh, and there is the very important economic and business impact of parking being too cheap or too expensive, plus we have private lots with excess capacity.

So we are looking at a number of things.  You may already know about the performance parking pilots.  We have two operating right now that are valiant efforts, but have inherent flaws such as geography, too labor intensive to change pricing and limited staff to manage these programs, particularly in these economic times.  I consider myself to be pretty experienced in the meshing of new technology with yesterdays infrastructure (carsharing and wireless technology, bikesharing, etc.).  This is the time to leap frog to a citywide system that prices parking in real time based on historical data and trend lines, and real time parking utilization information.  Basically, a yield-management  system for parking.  I would rather put our limited time and resources into the bones of a system citywide that I know can scale vs. an imperfect, labor intensive program that cannot.

So, we move to our parking pilots: The first pilot launched earlier this year and we have some exciting information to share about that.  We are happy to announce that we will be installing 1200 IPS solar/credit card meters beginning in late October.  These meters will available in the highest usage areas in business districts.  1200 meters are not enough to convert the entire system in the city, but strategically it makes sense to install the first group of these meters in areas where they are most needed.  DDOT is identifying additional funding for more meters after the second phase pilots are finished and plan to install them in the remaining locations in short order.  

The IPS meters are the single space meters that take credit cards, are solar powered and easily converted.  Some of you may have seen the video that we produced explaining these meters last winter [click here to see video:]

 Los Angeles and San Francisco along with other major cities throughout the US are also testing these same meters now.  We found a failure rate of less than 1% and a minimum 30% increase in revenue that we attribute to reliability/uptime, ease of use and of course the credit card payment option.  So return on investment is estimated to be less than 1 year.

By the end of the year, I have committed to have a citywide pay by phone system in place based on the results of our current pilot.  This will obviate the need for quarters for any regular user with a cell phone immediately.  Our pilot is showing that DC has the fastest uptake and highest usage per capita in the country already.

These systems that we put in place, hardware and virtual, have to fit into our larger technology (ITS) strategy for the city, and more immediately, a demand based system that will have the capability to price parking dynamically without any human intervention, whether U Street on a Friday night, or Metro Center on a Tuesday at noon.  We also need to make sure that the parameters for pricing reflect our larger goals for sustainability, livability, congestion and a vibrant business community.

We appreciate everyone’s patience as we move forward with our pilots and implement a world class parking system for a world class city.  It will be worth the wait.

-gabe klein 

Don’t forget to take our survey in response to our current phase of pilots [for more information click here].  No one finds parking exciting, well… maybe we do just a little, but only because the new technology is so great and because, let’s face it, we are transportation wonks.  Stay with us through this transition and soon you will be putting those quarters in your piggy banks and not in your pockets.

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