Why does Metro make it so hard to know where empty parking spots are?
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
My daughter, a high school senior, is starting a downtown D.C. internship for six weeks. Twice a week, she will leave her high school in Alexandria at noon and commute downtown.
-- Lesa L. Aylward,
If the transit authority is going to continue providing much of the parking in the Washington region -- which I'm not sure it should -- then its parking management must enter the 21st century. The problem that our letter-writer seeks to solve for her daughter is quite common. Many of the parking lots and garages fill up early in the morning. People who don't do a 9-to-5 commute have no way of knowing whether they will find a space when they arrive at midday.
Metro doesn't have a parking system like Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport's, which shows space availability on all levels of its garages. And it doesn't have one like Reagan National Airport's, which allows people to look online to see the number of spaces available before they leave for the airport.
When you head for a Metro garage with tight parking, you're on your own. The best chance for post-rush hour parking comes at 10 a.m., when the unfilled reserved parking spaces open up to everyone. But even those can disappear by noon.
David Alpert, an advocate for better urban planning who operates the Greater Greater Washington blog, suggests that Metro set its parking prices by the lot or garage, perhaps even offering several rates within one facility. A more creative pricing structure could balance supply and demand and perhaps ensure that parking will be available to those willing to pay a premium.
But Aylward couldn't wait for some change in Metro policy. She wanted a solution for her daughter now. When I described the problem on our Get There blog, some travelers suggested that her daughter just drive to the District and park there. She thought that was a non-starter. Why drive in, pay all that money to park and then have to drive home in rush-hour traffic? "I commuted downtown by car for a lot of years, and I wouldn't wish that on any 18-year-old," she wrote in an e-mail.