Frustrated by the worsening crisis in street parking in popular Adams-Morgan, a band of area restaurateurs is poised to spend more than $24,000 a year to provide weekend mini-bus service between a Florida Avenue parking garage and their restaurant strip.
The first mini-bus will roll out of the parking garage at Florida Avenue and T Street NW at 6 p.m. tomorrow. Organizers say the bus will loop through the neighborhood about every 15 minutes until 2 a.m.
The intent, the business owners say, is to serve the growing number of customers who regularly complain that they cannot find spaces to park along the crowded streets of the bustling neighborhood that boasts nearly 70 restaurants.
They say most customers tell them they either pay $8 a night to park in the area's lone commercial lot on 18th Street NW or cruise around until they can find a space on the street to leave their car for a few hours.
"It is absolutely terrible," said Lena Mariam, a manager at Fasika's restaurant. "A lot of people complain about it. They tell us, 'Oh, we had to wait an hour for a parking space.' "
Roberto Alvarez, owner of Cafe Atlantico and one of the bus service organizers, said the parking problem has become so severe that the business owners decided it was up to them to find a remedy.
"We have been accused of not doing anything to try to solve or mitigate the situation, so we have decided to try this for six months and see if we can make it work," he said.
About a dozen restaurants have agreed to pay $125 a month each to lease a 21-seat bus that will pick people up from the Atlantic Garage Inc. near the Washington Hilton and transport them to three stops along 18th Street and Columbia Road NW.
The service will be free. And to any who use the service, Atlantic Garage, which will stay open until 3 a.m., will charge a flat fee of $4 a vehicle.
For now the shuttle will run Friday and Saturday evenings, and organizers say they will promote it as a transportation alternative.
"We hope it's kind of fun and that eventually it just kind of gets taken for granted," said Rob Grady, a member of the 18th Street and Columbia Road Business Association.
Restaurateurs and other Adams-Morgan business owners have been begging the city for some time to build a municipal parking lot in the area.
Two years ago the D.C. Council established a task force to study whether the city, which has no municipal lots, should start building some, but then failed to provide funding for a $25,000 survey the task force recommended.
Some Adams-Morgan aficionados said this week that it could be an inconvenience to have to park and take the new mini-bus, but acknowledged that it might be better than searching for a parking space.
"Parking is a hassle," said Janet Jarquin, 29, a University Park resident who said she would consider riding the shuttle. "You can drive around for 15 minutes before you find a place to park."
The concept is hardly new. Mount Pleasant residents have been formulating a plan for more than six months to start a shuttle bus to the Cleveland Park and Woodley Park subway stations. Organizers said they have not decided whether to seek private or public backing, or both.
"Ours was always a much broader thing," said Judy Fredette, a Mount Pleasant Advisory Neighborhood commissioner. "We simply have different purposes."