Parking is set to get more expensive, and cheaper, in part of Washington.

Last spring, the D.C. government raised rates at more than 14,000 parking meters citywide to $2.30 per hour. (They had been $2 in many places, such as downtown, and 75 cents elsewhere.)

In October, the city tweaked the pricing at about 1,000 spots around Penn Quarter and Chinatown as part of an experiment in more nimble “demand pricing.” Depending on the time of day and location in those neighborhoods, some spots dropped to $2 an hour, some stayed at $2.30 and some were upped to $2.75.

Now, as part of a quarterly review of when people actually use those 1,000 spots, or leave them empty, the city has released a complex — and colorful! — new rate chart adding new more (or less) expensive categories. The top rate in Penn Quarter/Chinatown, starting Monday, will be $3.25 an hour. The low end will be $1.50. Then in three months, the prices will be tweaked again.

This is the area in Penn Quarter and Chinatown that is part of the demand pricing parking experiment. (Courtesy District Department of Transportation)
This is the area in Penn Quarter and Chinatown that is part of the demand pricing parking pilot. (Courtesy District Department of Transportation)

The ultimate goal, said Soumya Dey, a top city transportation official, is to find the pricing “sweet spot” so there is one empty spot, on each side of the street, on every block. That would be an occupancy rate of 85 to 90 percent. Then people can always find a place to park if they need one (and can pay what it takes) and they won’t keep circling around, plugging up traffic for everyone else, advocates said.

Transportation officials can legally keep raising the rate to $8 an hour, but Dey said the city is taking “a very incremental and conservative approach to our price adjustments.”

Officials at the District Department of Transportation have been looking at information from 500 sensors in the pavement, plus payment transaction and enforcement data, to try to figure out how drivers responded to the October price hikes (and cuts.)

“We throw all of these disparate data elements into a blender then come up with predicted occupancy and usage,” Dey said. Then they factor in what happens on the ground and do it again.

They have not calculated how much revenue has gone up or down since the October price changes, Dey said. In the changes taking effect Monday, many more spots are going up to $3.25 than are dropping to $1.50, according to DDOT data. On a weekday morning, just 3 percent of spots will cost $1.50. During the midday period, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., 40 percent of spaces will cost $3.25.

Later this year, officials are planning to add a new “separate price band” covering spaces when the Verizon Center holds major events, Dey said.

“The District is not very different from any other vibrant downtown areas. The parking experience isn’t a particularly pleasurable one,” Dey said. The city is “trying to enhance the customer experience” and “make better use of our assets.”

As part of the project, the District released an app on iOS and Android, ParkDC, that shows the likelihood, in real time, a space will be available on each block in the area, and how much it costs.

There are several areas in the city where some form of “performance parking” is in effect, Dey said, including near Nationals Park, where meter rates on game days reached $8 an hour for the second and third hour of parking. “We are looking at a few different options for this season,” he said.

Theoretically, the price of parking in each space in Penn Quarter could change all the time, leading to a more perfect market. But that’s harder in practice, Dey said. While there’s “dynamic pricing” on roads such as Virginia’s Express Lanes, which sends tolls rising when there’s more congestion, it’s more difficult to notify potential parkers of quickly-changing prices. “How do you communicate that to people on a real time basis?” Dey asked.

For now, they plan to change the prices every three months, than maybe every two, then every one. The idea, he said, is to “slowly move up a dynamic spectrum” and see what the system can handle.