Raise Parking Fees on Multi-Car Households First

Yesterday, the Washington Post reported that as part of his final effort to close the city’s budget gap, Adrian Fenty is considering doubling the fee for residential parking passes. This is actually not a bad idea at all. We charge a laughably small fee for street parking: $15 a year. Only in the world of cars is it considered reasonable that private individuals are able to squat their personal property on 180 square feet of public property and only pay 4 cents a day.

So doubling it does seem like a quick and easy way to raise revenues while spreading the pain pretty thin. But it would be a failed opportunity. Before we consider raising the fee for households with one car, we ought to raise it for houses with two cars, and raising it even more for houses with three or more cars.

See how this would play out in a parking-challenged neighborhood like Georgetown: According to the 2000 Census, there are roughly 4,936 cars in Georgetown. There are only 4,640 households in Georgetown. Of those households here’s how the car ownership breaks down:

  • 20% of households have no car
  • 57% of households have one car
  • 23% of households have more than one car

You might think, well only 23% of households have multiple cars, so they can’t be causing much of the parking shortage. But that’s wrong. almost half (46%) of cars in Georgetown are owned by households that own more than one car. If every household with more than one car got rid of just one car (keep in mind some households have five cars) there would be 1,200 fewer cars in Georgetown, a drop of 21%. If even just half the multi-car households got rid of just one car, there’d be 528 fewer cars in Georgetown, an 11% drop.

To flip it around: how many more cars would be in Georgetown if every no-car or one-car household followed the model of multi-car households? 7,164, an increase of 46%. There is simply not enough parking to accommodate that, and, besides, our streets would be completed gridlocked.

Essentially, all of these multi-car households are taking more than their “fair share” of street-space and can do so simply because the majority of people don’t do so. Moreover, they only pay an extra $15 per car to do it (yes, registration cost $72 a year, but everyone pays that regardless of whether they’re entitled to a Residential Parking Permit or not). That’s not right.

And so before we raise everyone’s permit costs, we should focus on the multi-car households first. For discussion purposes, lets consider this structure: $15 for the first car, $30 for the second, $45 for the third, and so on. How does this add up?

If we simply doubled the rate for everyone we’d generate roughly $148,000 in fees from Georgetown car owners. If we went with GM’s proposal, we’d generate $197,000 in fees. If in adopting these higher fees we caused every multi-car household to give up one car, we’d still generate $163,000 in fees from Georgetown.

So by adopting this fee structure, we’d raise more money for the city and possibly lower the number of cars on the street, thus decreasing traffic and improving parking availability. And moreover it would simply be a more fair way of allocating a scarce public resource.

Yes, some may argue that this is unfair to households that simply have to have more than one car. GM will admit that such households probably do exist. But GM doubts it’s the majority of multi-car households. Many have more than one car simply because it’s so cheap to keep two cars. Moreover, we’re still only talking about a fee of one tank of gas a year. If there is one major flaw in this proposal, it’s that it doesn’t raise the fees high enough to actually affect behavior. But for now, at least, it would point us in the right direction and, of course, help close the budget gap too.


Filed under Parking

7 responses to “Raise Parking Fees on Multi-Car Households First

  1. Ken Archer

    This makes all the sense in the world and appears to have very broad-based support.

    I heard Karina Ricks of DDOT explaining at the Zoning Hearing this past Monday evening that the administrative challenge is identifying whether 2 cars belong to same household, given the use of basement apartments, carriage houses, and other “accessory dwelling units”.

  2. Kate Whitmore

    I find the car statistic hard to believe. It most likely does not capture students and the denizens of the many illegal basement apartments all over Georgetown. Granted, quite a few of these do not have cars but a sizable number does. I would think the DMV would have better stats? Either way, I think your idea is great since it would discourage the people who have upwards of three or more vehicles (Hummers included) and park all of them on the street.

  3. Sandra Cheldelin

    I support increasing the fees for car ownership. However, perhaps the increased revenue should attend to a larger issue–why families need cars: the lack of metro availability for many of us to get to work within a reasonable timeframe leads us to alternative transportation.

  4. Denis James

    The $15.00 fee is an administrative cost for the Residential Parking Program. It’s not a charge for parking “spaces” for residents. I’m not against raising it, but let’s not confuse the issue of paying for a program that was designed to protect the ability of residents to park close to their homes with that of the City charging residents for the use of the public street.

    Charging more per household is difficult, too. Suppose you have 3 adults in the household who all need vehilces to travel to work sites not well-served by public transportation? Why should adult number three be charged more than numbers one or two?

    But what GM didn’t mention at all, and is a key to some of the problems, is off-street parking associated with private homes, be they row-house or condo. Many homeowners rent out their off-street parking, encouraging those from out of each neighborhood, or out of state commuters to drive into the city, adding to our congestion.

  5. A

    I completely agree! A big issue is houses that are rented to two, three, and four people, with each tenant owning a car. The next door neighbor may not even own a car and this house may be taking up four public parking spots on the street! I absolutely think the city should implement higher registration fees for multi-vehicle homes.

  6. Ben


    A Wisconsin Avenue streetcar route, connecting the Friendship Heights and Tenley metro stations with the K Street/Benning Road streetcar route that will terminate in Georgetown will give Georgetown residents and visitors an alternative way to travel to/from here without a vehicle. A Wisconsin Avenue streetcar can also offer better mobility than the 30s buses, which are some of the most-delayed bus routes in the District.


  7. asuka

    The fee should be $150 a car, billed quarterly. Also, every car after two should be $300 a year. Its also unfortunate that Gray will be reigning in parking meter fees. Those should be $3 an hour. Additionally, the gas tax should be raised 5 cents, and a sin tax should be placed on fast food. If they did those four things, it would a go a long way to closing the gap, and make the city better in the process.

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