Starting Monday, drivers will pay as much as $7 an hour to park in Penn Quarter and Chinatown — part of a city-sponsored program designed to reduce congestion and improve parking availability in the popular entertainment district.
In most areas of the city, parkers pay $2.30 hourly, but in Penn Quarter and Chinatown, rates vary depending on the time of day, day of the week and location of the parking spot. Under the new pricing, people could pay as little as $1 or as much as $7 to park.
The rate changes will cover about 1,000 on-street parking spaces in Northwest, between 11th Street, 3rd Street, H Street and E Street.
The changes are part of an experiment the District’s Department of Transportation launched in 2014. With variable rate parking — also known as dynamic pricing — the goal is to better manage the District’s parking inventory by charging more for spaces when demand is highest.
Rates also are adjusted by location, which can ensure that available spaces don’t go unused. The hope is that higher rates could nudge people to consider other modes of transportation, but the goal is also to ensure there is at least one empty spot on each side of the street on every block.
“It’s working,” said DDOT Director Jeff Marootian. “We are seeing many positive results.”
A January evaluation found the parking program has reduced by as much as 15 percent the amount of time drivers spent search for parking during all time periods on weekends and on weekdays. Officials also saw a dramatic decrease in the amount of time vehicles were double-parked. In August 2017, vehicles in the neighborhood were double-parked an average of 131 minutes, but in March 2018, the average time vehicles were double-parked dropped 43 percent to 74.4 minutes.
Whether higher rates are pushing people to take other transportation is not yet clear. Evaluators found that Capital Bikeshare ridership increased but bus ridership decreased. It also found that Metro ridership stabilized, despite ongoing service interruptions.
Marootian said the parking program is just one of several strategies the District is using to better manage traffic as its streets have grown more congested.
The city now has special pickup and drop-off zones for ride-hailing services and this month launched a program that will allow delivery drivers to reserve curb space. The goal? Keep traffic moving.
DDOT officials developed two mobile apps, parkDC and VoicePark, to help drivers navigate parking in Penn Quarter and Chinatown. The apps provide real-time information about parking rates and can point drivers to blocks with open space. For those who don’t have smartphones, signs have been posted throughout the neighborhood that explain parking rates by time of day and day of the week.
Dynamic pricing has become has become a popular tool in the transportation world. Virginia has been a leader in using variable rate tolls to manage traffic flow on the Beltway and Interstate 66 during rush hour. In Maryland, drivers on the Inter-County Connector pay a different prices depending on when they use the roadway.
This is the eighth time rates in Penn Quarter have been adjusted since DDOT launched the program. A similar variable rate system is in place near Nationals Park.
Not everyone agrees the program should be expanded.
“It has not made parking cheaper or easier,” said John Townsend, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “What it has done is make parking more onerous. It doesn’t benefit anyone except for the District’s bottom line.”
DDOT officials were unable to provide information about how the program has affected parking revenue in the area. However, they note that drivers would pay the maximum $7 charge on only 2 percent of blocks in the neighborhood during peak demand.