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Parking meters on the Mall make sense. That doesn’t mean they’re not a pain.

The National Park Service says free parking on the Mall is about to go the way of all good things. Beginning in June, people will have to pay $2 an hour to park on several streets nearby. Here, a general view of the Mall is seen from the rebuilt cast-iron dome of the U.S. Capitol on Nov. 15, 2016. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)
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There’s probably no good time to announce that people are going to have to pay for something that used to be free.

But the day before a major holiday weekend is probably as good a time as any to drop the bad news, which is when the National Park Service announced that $2-an-hour parking meters are coming soon to the Mall.

The agency, in announcing Friday that a contractor had been chosen to begin installing parking stations on parts of Constitution and Independence avenues and other streets next month, said enforcement will begin June 12.

National Mall to stop being land of free parking; meters arrive soon

The aim of the new parking policy — which was set in 2014 after public comment — is to improve access to the Mall by increasing turnover of street parking and encouraging people to use mass transit. The meters, for example, will pay for the park service’s share of the cost of running the DC Circulator’s National Mall route. Exactly how much of the revenue goes to supporting the Circulator, which charges $1 a head to 15 stops around the Mall, isn’t clear in the announcement.

Of course, nobody likes to shell out money for parking, let alone risk a parking ticket. But it seems reasonable to think that the new parking policy might reduce traffic chaos on the Mall and put an end to abuses caused by people who manage to seize a spot and camp out all day without paying a dime. (This means you, Mr. Souvenir Vendor.)

But the Mall’s new parking policy is also going to hit some people who can least afford it — such as working people who live outside the downtown area, young families and tourists. Many of these folks often rely on outings to the nation’s capital as a relatively inexpensive way to enjoy some open space, visit memorials and tour museums whose admission is free. For them, the car is often the only way to go because of Metro’s cost, even with off-peak fares.

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Consider a family of four from Prince William County. To take Metro from Dale City means laying out about $29 round-trip in weekend fares if they drive to the Franconia-Springfield station and take Metro from there. Driving in the whole way — even in, say, a gas-guzzling 2005 minivan — would use about 1½ gallons of gas at a cost of about $7 round trip.

As of June, however, spending four hours on the Mall will now mean spending an additional $8 for transportation, or about twice the cost.

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It would still be cheaper to drive the whole way for these folks, of course, even if they have to pay for metered parking — although that’s also assuming they don’t have to park in a parking garage after being unable to find any metered parking available near the Mall, and they don’t run afoul of D.C.’s commando-style parking enforcement or speed cameras, etc. Whether you want to risk a traffic jam or Metro delays caused by single-tracking — planned or otherwise — is up to you.

Of course there are other hidden costs to owning a vehicle and living in suburbia and so on, but the fact remains that whatever these people were paying, they’re now going to be paying more. As for Americans who come to see the capital from farther away, especially places where the cost of living isn’t anywhere close to that of a major metropolitan area, it’s just upping their dose of sticker shock.

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