The Red Top Meter Program

Below is Director Terry Bellamy’s prepared testimony for the DC Council’s Public Oversight Roundtable on the Red Top Meter Program, held on Thursday, March 29, 2012.

Good Afternoon Chairman Cheh, members of the Committee, and District residents.  My name is Terry Bellamy, and I am the Director of the District Department of Transportation (DDOT).  It is a pleasure to appear before the committee to provide testimony on behalf of Mayor Vincent C. Gray regarding the Red Top Meter Program.

I want to thank you for the opportunity to provide more information about this program and its origins, which date back more than a decade.


It is important to know the history of this issue to understand why the Red Top Meter program was implemented.

The first attempt to tackle this issue was in 2001. The DC Council enacted DC Law 13-279 which was intended to curb the fraudulent use of disability plates and placards by non-disabled drivers and to ensure that residential and short-term metered spaces were not inappropriately utilized for all-day parking.

That law however, was challenged in 2004 by a lawsuit alleging discrimination against persons with disabilities.

In 2006 the District enacted the Parking Amendment Act which provided for the establishment of reasonable payment and time limitations for persons with disability license plates and placards. It also called for a study concerning the number, placement and accessibility of metered spaces reserved for persons with disabilities.

In subsequent years, the District took multiple steps to settle the lawsuit mentioned above, including:

  • Providing 2 accessible on-street meters per block face – these are the meters with blue domes you see today
  • Replacing or retrofitting approximately 200 sidewalks, and
  • Replacing or installing about 800 curb ramps.

At the same time, DDOT continued to develop a plan to implement the provisions of the 2006 Parking Amendment Act – looking at best practices in other jurisdictions, testing new technology, and identifying metered spaces that could be reserved for persons with disabilities. The result of this effort was the Red Top Meter program.

Red Top Meter Program

The Red Top Meter program sets out to accomplish multiple goals:

  • To complete the implementation of the Parking Amendment Act
  • To provide reserved ADA-accessible parking spaces for persons with disabilities, while preserving their ability to park in any legal space
  • To increase turnover at all curbside spaces in the city which would benefit all drivers, including persons with disabilities, as well as local businesses, and
  • Eliminate the prime incentive for fraud.

The lure of free parking has proven to be an enticement too many people who are not disabled cannot resist, and it has led to the excessive misuse of disability placards and plates. In addition, not only are people abusing this benefit intended for persons with disabilities, but often they are parking all day.  A curbside occupancy study conducted by the Downtown BID in 2009 showed that over 40% of the vehicles with ADA placards parked on two prime downtown corridors, stayed for longer than 4 hours, the maximum time allowed.

It is a problem documented here in the District and in cities across the country. Donald Shoup, one of the foremost experts in parking policy, wrote last year that “treating disabled placards as free parking passes has encouraged widespread abuse” by non-disabled drivers “who simply want to park wherever they want, whenever they want, without paying anything.” We are one of the first to tackle it head on, but many others are watching what happens here in Washington as they try to develop their own plans.

We fully appreciate the legitimate challenges persons with disabilities face every day; they need meters that are accessible and close by; they sometimes need more time to complete a doctor’s visit or to patronize a store. The Red Top Meter program is designed to address those unique circumstances and to make it easier for persons with disabilities to access businesses and services.  At the same time, it drives home the point that the benefits of reserved metered parking and longer time limits are intended for persons with disabilities and only for persons with disabilities.

Public Input and Outreach

In preparation for the rollout of the Red Top Meter program, DDOT held informational meetings in September of 2011 with representatives from multiple District government agencies and independent organizations that represent or provide services to seniors and persons with disabilities. More outreach occurred at the start of this year to organizations that requested additional information.

On Monday, January 9 – almost 2 months before full enforcement was set to begin – DDOT publicly announced it planned to implement the Red Top Meter program.  There was also a one-month grace period in February before any tickets were written under the program. Two reminders were sent out on February 1 and February 27, we promoted it on our social media channels and there was extensive media coverage of the Red Top Meter program prior to March 1 when enforcement began.

Having said that, we acknowledge there is always room for more outreach, especially when you are implementing a significant change in policy, and in this case our outreach may have been too narrowly focused. We have developed a more robust outreach plan that will include print advertising, more collaboration with partner agencies and a direct mail campaign to reach every disability placard or plate holder in the District.

We have also moved quickly to make adjustments to the program and to implement constructive recommendations from the disabled community. For instance, we took immediate action to deploy 1,100 more Red Top Meters in response to concerns about the reach of the initial rollout.

In addition, even before the Council voted to suspend the implementation of the program, we had delayed enforcement until more Red Top meters were deployed and we had an opportunity to conduct additional outreach.

Looking Forward

In the coming weeks, we look forward to working closely with Council and the disabled community to further refine and improve the Red Top Meter program. We strongly believe it is good, sound policy that makes reasonable changes to provide more parking for persons with disabilities, and to reduce the fraud that robs the city of revenue–that we in turn use to maintain WMATA service–and available parking for motorists who follow the rules.

Anecdotally, we think the program was already making a difference. In the limited time the program was enforced earlier this month, on street meters spaces freed up on blocks that – before the program was implemented – were parked at or near full occupancy by out of District vehicles displaying disability placards or plates and parking all day for free. Without the benefit of free parking, we think non-disabled commuters using disability placards and plates found it was more cost effective to park in a garage or to take public transit.

As we move forward with implementation, we will continue to monitor the occupancy and availability of red top meters and identify areas where more capacity may be needed to ensure both availability and turnover of all metered spaces.

We hope we can address any concerns to your satisfaction here today and agree on a course of action to complete the implementation of the Red Top Meter program. If not, a return to the status quo is likely, and the work begun more than a decade ago to address this important issue will remain unfinished.

About DDOT Blogger

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) develops and maintains for the District of Columbia a cohesive sustainable transportation system that delivers safe, affordable, and convenient ways to move people and goods - while protecting and enhancing the natural, environmental and cultural resources of the District.
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