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D.C. sending out new visitor parking permits

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The District Department of Transportation has begun mailing out the city’s new Visitor Parking Passes, the latest step in a lengthy and tortured process intended to make the program less subject to abuse.

DDOT originally planned to have residents request the permits through an online registration process, but the D.C. Council had concerns about that and passed emergency legislation blocking it.

As a result, all the permits that were set to expire on Sept. 30 remain valid through December. By that time, the new one should have arrived in the mail. (Once the new one arrives, it’s ready to use, so discard the old one.)

Not every city resident will get these passes, which when placed on a dashboard allow a visitor to park for more than two hours in congested parts of the city where neighborhood parking restrictions are in effect. Those zones are in Wards 1, 3, 4, 5 and parts of Ward 6 along the H Street NE corridor and near Nationals Park.

The mailings won’t be complete until December, so remember that the old one is good till the new one arrives. One free pass will be sent to each household in the zones covered by the Residential Permit Parking program. People who live outside those neighborhoods — those who won’t get the visitor pass in the mail — can still go to their local police station to request a temporary permit for guest parking.

The new Visitor Parking Passes are good till Sept. 30, 2014. Not that any of this could possibly be confusing, but just in case, DDOT has a customer service line for questions: 202-673-6813, during normal business hours.

Actually, there are many, many D.C. residents and out-of-towners who find the District’s parking rules utterly baffling, and DDOT has been struggling for several years to revamp various parking programs and rules.

The problem with the visitor pass program was that it can be abused in various ways. A resident could sell it to someone who lives outside the zone.

Reggie Sanders, spokesman for DDOT, said in September that the department had developed a program to keep better track of the permits. Instead of waiting for passes in the mail, residents would have to register for them.

The redesigned pass would contain an identifying code. If residents believed that a pass was being abused, they could contact city officials, who would trace it to the registered owner.

The council didn’t like the idea of replacing the automatic mailing of passes with what it called a “clumsy, one-size-fits-all policy.” Some people who wanted the passes would be inconvenienced by the need to apply. So the council passed emergency legislation that put the online registration plan on hold. The old permits remained valid till the new ones could be mailed out, just as before. But residents will notice that the new-style permits, the ones now being mailed, contain identifier coding that could help prevent abuse.