During much of the 20 minutes that Jacob Hensey spent hunting for parking near his doctor’s appointment in Foggy Bottom one morning last week, he was stuck behind delivery trucks that were double-parked with their hazard lights flashing while traffic piled up behind them.
Just west of 24th Street NW, Hensey pulled around a double-parked Crystal Springs water truck that had squeezed busy Pennsylvania Avenue from two lanes to one and finally ducked into a parking space.
“It happens all the time,” Hensey, 27, a dog walker who lives in Columbia Heights, said as he fed the meter. “It doubles the commute time.”
District transportation officials say new parking rules for commercial vehicles should help reduce the number of trucks that routinely block traffic. As of Jan. 1, commercial truck drivers will be allowed free use of metered parking spaces during the midday. Fines for regular vehicles that park illegally in commercial loading zones will double to $100.
But trucking companies, from one-man operations to delivery giants such as FedEx, say the city has failed to do the one thing that would significantly reduce their need to double-park — add curbside loading space. Critics say the city has added few commercial loading zones even as the number of restaurants, stores and office buildings has soared and delivery-dependent online shopping has boomed.
It’s a problem that Joseph Kamara, who double-parked his DHL delivery van on Pennsylvania Avenue next to Hensey’s Subaru last week, said he knows well. There were no commercial loading zones near his package drop-off point at the Spanish Embassy, Kamara said, and his deliveries are time-sensitive.
“I don’t have anywhere to park,” Kamara, of Alexandria, said before jumping back into his bright yellow-and-red van. “I’ve got to make my delivery.”
Most angering delivery companies is a $323 annual decal that will be required as of Jan. 1 for all vehicles using commercial loading zones, which are now free. Trucks parked in the zones without the decal risk a $100 ticket.
The companies say the new fee — delivery drivers also can obtain a $25 day pass or pay $2 an hour via cellphone — won’t provide any new parking space. They say it simply amounts to a new tax that will increase prices on everything from papayas to paper clips as delivery companies pass on the additional costs to customers.
The American Trucking Associations said it is considering taking legal action, arguing that the fee illegally impedes the free flow of goods between states and the District.
“We urge city leaders to back away from this ill-conceived cash grab,” ATA spokesman Sean McNally said.
David Guernsey, whose company, Guernsey Office Products, will need decals on each of its 20 trucks that travel into the District daily, said: “If anyone thinks there’s going to be less double-parking, it’s not going to happen with this program. It’s just going to be more money for the city.”
Higher fines for private cars parked in commercial loading zones should help discourage some illegal parking, delivery companies said. But without additional enforcement, they say, many motorists will continue to take their chances, clogging the commercial zones and leaving them no choice but to double-park.
The city declined to say how many tickets are issued each year for double-parking or for private vehicles parked in commercial loading zones, saying a reporter would need to file a Freedom of Information Act request.
Eulois Cleckley, who oversees freight planning for the District, said the city has added 30 commercial loading zones since 2012 and is studying which streets need more.
“Where it makes sense,” Cleckley said, “we’ll try to add more loading zones.”
Meanwhile, he said, the District Department of Transportation is trying to better “manage” curbside space by opening up more for commercial vehicles through the free midday metered parking. A law passed by the D.C. Council in 2009 allowed the city to begin charging for parking in commercial loading zones, as other cities do, he said.
“Our permit price is very comparable and favorable compared to other cities,” Cleckley said.
He said the cost of the annual decal amounts to less than a dollar a day. And allowing trucks with decals to use multiple metered spaces for up to two hours of free parking between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., he said, will result in less double-parking and blocked traffic and fewer tickets for delivery companies.
“They should receive more space and more opportunities to park legally,” Cleckley said.
But delivery firms say the free midday metered parking won’t help much because their trucks require at least two to three spaces in a row — something almost impossible to find downtown and in congested areas such as Dupont Circle and Capitol Hill.
“That’s never going to happen,” said John Kane, president of the Kane Co., which has delivery and office-moving trucks throughout the Washington region. “I can barely get one” metered space.
The decal fee, most say, will ultimately fall to consumers as delivery companies pass on the additional cost through higher charges or prices.
“They’ll have no choice — they’ll have to pass on [the loading-zone fee] to me,” said Jeff Black, owner of Black Salt restaurant in Palisades and Pearl Dive near Logan Circle. “If I get extra delivery charges, I’m going to have to factor it into my menu prices.”
Brett Grohsgal said he leaves his St. Mary’s County farm by 3 a.m. to avoid traffic on his seven produce deliveries to D.C. restaurants and farm stands. To offset the commercial zone fee, he said, he’ll add 50 cents to a dollar to the price of each case of fruit and vegetables he delivers.
“Parking is so tight already,” said Grohsgal, who owns Even’Star Organic Farm in Lexington Park, Md. “It’s not like they’re generating more parking spots. If the money went to generating more loading zones for us — and if the money really went there — I’d be all for it. But since it usually doesn’t, it’s just another fee.”
FedEx spokesman Jack Pfeiffer said midday metered parking won’t help its trucks, either. Without additional commercial parking space, Pfeiffer said, the company expects it will continue to pay more than $1 million annually in D.C. parking tickets. Having decals on all FedEx trucks that make deliveries in the city isn’t feasible, he said, because some come from across the Mid-Atlantic. The fine for double-parking is $50.
Solving the double-parking problem won’t be easy, companies say. Expanding or adding loading zones would require reducing the number of regular metered spaces, which would anger motorists and abolish a steady revenue stream for the city. Many streets also have bike lanes that would be blocked by additional curbside truck parking, undermining efforts to reduce traffic through cycling and walking.
And what about requiring that deliveries be made overnight so trucks can park easily without blocking traffic? Delivery companies say their customers balk at the idea because they don’t want to have to pay employees to meet the trucks at 3 a.m.