D.C. urged to explore new options in metered parking

By Robert Thomson
Sunday, April 11, 2010; C02

Commenting on the increases in D.C. parking meter fees, this city resident urged the District to get more creative in how it collects the money.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I can somehow rationalize what the city is doing. I don't like it, but for the sake of revenue, okay. What bothers me the most is they are not making it easy for the public.

To carry around the number of quarters we need is impossible. Why aren't they looking into the system Montgomery County uses, the CashKey?

I know the District has those ticket boxes [multi-space meters]. For the fast-paced lives we live, they are just plain impractical. There have been two occasions when I forgot to go back to my car to unlock it to put the white receipt in the window. This system is unfair because the city is setting citizens up to fail.

-- Laura McCaffey,

Chevy Chase, D.C.

When the District raised the fees to $2 an hour at most meters, city officials knew they were in for some backlash. Drivers didn't like paying more, but what really annoyed many was lugging around all those quarters.

Other jurisdictions, like Montgomery County, have expanded their meter payment options. The CashKey is a SmarTrip for drivers. It can store value up to $650. (Don't lose it.) The key fits into an electronic meter, which deducts value for parking time.

The District has several pilot programs for electronic meter deductions. One allows the use of credit cards. The newest thing, starting Monday, is a pay-by-phone experiment. It will be tested at 700 spaces in Dupont Circle, Union Station and a downtown area that includes K Street, I Street and New York Avenue.

Drivers must sign up to use this service by going to a Web site called paybyphone.com or by calling 1-888-510-PARK (7275). Once the account is established, the driver parks at one of the meters, calls the toll-free number, enters the location number posted on the meter, then enters the desired parking time. The amount is charged to the driver's credit card.

I like all the coinless experiments, but my hope is that someday all our local transportation payments -- tolls, parking and transit fares -- can be deducted from one universal card.

Cherry blossom review

Here's a typical travel experience getting to and from the Cherry Blossom Festival, which ends today.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

On April 2, I ventured to see the cherry blossoms along the Tidal Basin with my elderly but energetic parents.

We entered Metro at Eastern Market, aware of the safety, traffic and Metro alerts and prepared for the tsunami of people enjoying the blossoms.

We were not prepared for the seeming lack of organization and information at the Metro stations, especially at the Smithsonian stop. I knew Metro limited the Mall side to exit only, designating Independence Avenue for entrance only. It appeared all escalators were turned off, with no warning for people who might need to use the elevator.

At the top of our climb, we encountered a single police officer doing his best to direct approaching crowds to use the Independence Avenue side to enter.

Our return involved a crushing decent down the also turned-off escalators on Independence, compounded by the bottleneck of riders trying to purchase tickets. At the end of the day, we felt like we had been in a brawl. Overall, people were patient and kind. Safety was the top priority.

Because the festival brings so many riders unfamiliar with the Metro system, is it unreasonable to hope for a higher-profile presence from Metro during the peak of the festival -- more directional signage, updated announcements on the speakers inside the stations, crowd control and help to expedite ticket purchases?

Traffic control officers and mounted police were working hard to keep tourists safe and traffic moving.

-- Barb Hijazi,

Capitol Hill

Metro has had years of experience dealing with huge crowds each spring and knows enough to warn riders that Smithsonian will be jammed. It sometimes lets down its customers by failing to place enough trained people at the most crowded locations to ease the congestion and confusion it knows is coming.

Dr. Gridlock also appears Thursday in Local Living. Comments and questions are welcome and may be used in a column, along with the writer's name and home community. Personal responses are not always possible.

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