Plan to charge for Metro parking more often advances

WASHINGTON — A series of trial changes to Metro parking fees and other uses of Metro garages advanced Thursday for final approval.

A Metro Board Committee approved six changes:

  1. Begin charging for parking on weekends. Metro staff suggested the initial fee is expected to be no more than $1, and is primarily meant to help collect data for future weekend parking fees
  2. A trial of lowering the prices at some of Metro’s least-used parking lots to see if it lures more riders without pulling too many drivers away from parking at other stations. Metro Director of Real Estate and Station Planning Nina Albert said it would likely start with one garage each in D.C., Maryland and Virginia. “The tension is that we don’t want to cannibalize, if you will, other parking lots that right now people are willing to pay the full daily rate,” she said.
  3. An allowance for an additional charge at any station — rather than the select few authorized today — for people who park in Metro garages without riding the system.
  4. Endorsement of a public hearing to allow for special event parking at Metro stations. The special event parking would allow Metro to open parking garages for large events near a station, such as the transit agency already does during games at FedEx Field. Metro would charge up to the $25 rate already in place for Metro’s Morgan Boulevard and Largo Town Center stations during events at the stadium.
  5. Permission for Metro to lease out empty parking spaces for events like farmers markets or for employee parking for government agencies or businesses near stations. Albert said two private companies and two government entities have expressed interest in parking deals.
  6. Permission to sell food and beverages at Metro parking facilities on weekends or holidays. The permission is required to make most farmers market or flea market type events work.

Combined, the proposals are now estimated to have the potential to raise about $8 million extra per year for Metro. Initial documents forecast a $4 million boost, but Metro then added an additional $4 million to the estimate for commercial deals like leasing parking spaces as private employee parking.

While $8 million is helpful, it is still just a drop in the bucket given a much larger projected budget shortfall next year.

Weekend and overnight parking

Metro believes, but does not have complete data to support it, that about half of all people parking at stations on the weekend are people visiting from out of town.

Albert believes visitors are less sensitive to price, and would likely use Metro even if there were a permanent weekend parking fee.

While board members supported Metro’s push to find more money, Arlington County Board Member Christian Dorsey and Prince George’s County Metro Board Member Malcolm Augustine warned against going too far with fees at times where rail service is often less than optimal.

“We are a transit agency, first and foremost, and so I am a little concerned about the impact on ridership on the weekend where we already have really poor utilization actually of the rail itself,” Augustine said.

Charging after 10 a.m. Saturdays and beginning at 7:30 a.m. rather than 9:30 a.m. on weekends could also catch more revenue from people who park overnight in Metro lots.

“I was under the impression that overnight parking was not allowed in any of the lots, is that not true?” Metro Board Member Robert Lauby asked.

“It is true, but people still park there,” Albert said. Metro estimates about 2,000 vehicles park overnight, which Lauby pointed out could be a great deal if there’s no enforcement, since someone who drove to a Metro lot and took the train to the airport could end up paying just $5 or so for a week of parking.

Metro is evaluating whether it makes sense to change to a parking system that tracks when drivers enter a garage, which would allow the potential for hourly charges as well. Albert said any significant change like that would be part of a separate process.

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