Arlington Co. to try demand-based parking prices

A new pilot program will use demand to adjust the price of street parking in Arlington County, Virginia.

Pitched as a “live pilot” by Arlington’s parking planner, Stephen Crim, the county’s board unanimously approved the program during a Tuesday meeting.

The county will deploy the new scaled pricing model in the major thoroughfares between Ballston-Rosslyn as well as Richmond Highway up until the Pentagon City area, which run parallel to the Metro’s Orange, Silver, Blue and Yellow lines in Arlington.

The Virginia Department of Transportation will fund the $5.4 million project; however, it is not designed to raise revenue, per Crim, but instead to make parking more efficient in Arlington’s high-traffic areas.

That intent gave some board members pause when the item was originally supposed to be discussed at the board’s meeting on Dec. 12, believing that it could disproportionately impact those with lower incomes.

Crim said that he doesn’t “have all the answers to those concerns,” but did provide data showing that residents with higher incomes have more cars and, on the whole, those who own fewer cars in Arlington are nonwhite.

He offered a hypothetical scenario where a mother was running late to pick up her children up from day care in a high-demand parking area.

Crim said that while the mother would typically park in a cheaper spot farther away, in this instance she could choose a high-demand spot close by that, despite being more expensive, saves her from paying a late pick up fee.

“Those who are disadvantaged in our society often lack money, and they also have time pressures that privileged individuals often do not have,” Crim said. “We see performance parking as an opportunity to give benefit to time-pressed drivers of all backgrounds so they can save money when they need it.” 

Crim did provide an off-ramp by saying that the pricing system could be turned off if it’s not a fit for the county.

Board member Christian Dorsey acknowledged that the county’s current system doesn’t promote equity with its uniform pricing model and that “this has a chance to deliver some real benefits to people as long as we do it well.”

Dorsey cited San Francisco’s own demand-responsive parking system that he said actually lowered prices.

Board Chair Libby Garvey said that these programs can be “used for good or for ill, and we want to use it for good.”

The county plans to get the system up and running before its current fiscal year concludes at the end of June.

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