In D.C. area, fees for shopping bags, parking pinch consumers

Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Starting Friday, consumers in the District will shell out more for disposable shopping bags, and in a few weeks, they'll pay more to park on the city's streets -- all part of a year-long trend around the Washington region to generate fees to help close budget gaps and pay for programs.

Shoppers at grocery, drug and liquor stores -- retail outlets that sell food and alcohol -- will have to pay 5 cents for every disposable plastic and paper sack they stuff with their purchased goods unless they use their own bags.

And by mid-January, there will be relatively few places in the city where drivers can park for less than $2 an hour.

Although many of the new charges will be in the District, Maryland and Virginia have also been scrambling to raise money, mostly with fee increases. No service seems immune, including fines for overdue books from Fairfax County libraries and carpool permits in Montgomery County.

According to recent estimates, the potential budget deficits next year are $104 million in the District, $2 billion in Maryland and $4.2 billion in Virginia. Each is struggling with possible employee layoffs and service cuts.

The District's fiscal year began Oct. 1 and brought increases in sales, cigarette and gas taxes. But there's more to come Friday, with the bag fee. And by mid-January, the city will complete the conversion of 14,749 parking spaces to charge $2 an hour.

Also beginning in a few weeks, drivers will have to pay to park on Saturdays and until 10:30 p.m. downtown. The changes -- meter conversions, the lift of the Saturday moratorium and late-night enforcement -- is expected to add up to an estimated $7.6 million in revenue for the city.

"Nationally, people are fed up with the government nickeling and diming consumers. That's what we're doing," said D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), chairman of the Committee on Finance and Revenue. "You can call 'em fees. They're all taxes. If it's a duck or a chicken, it's all a bird. . . . Our challenge going forward is, with flat revenues, what are we going to do?"

Evans said he has been getting complaints about rate increases on meters. By the time the city puts into effect all of its new parking rules, just 2,408 spaces will be covered under the old rate of 75 cents an hour.

"As a revenue-raiser, people are getting annoyed," he said. "You have to carry around a bag of quarters."

Parking fees' pitfalls?

The D.C. government will make money from the changes, but it has other goals, including encouraging turnover in metered spaces and stimulating commerce in business districts.

John B. Townsend II of AAA Mid-Atlantic questioned whether the increases would make suburban restaurants and entertainment centers more attractive.

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