WASHINGTON, D.C. – Free weekend parking at Metro stations could be coming to an end.
At its July 27 meeting, the Board of Directors for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) unanimously approved a package of proposals aimed to increase revenue from Metro-owned parking facilities. Staff will be conducting pilot programs for three of the proposals: expanding weekday hours to begin charging cars leaving Metro parking at 7:30 a.m. rather than the current 9:30 a.m.; lowering parking rates at lower-utilization stations; and charging for parking at Metro facilities on Saturdays. Currently, Metro does not charge for parking on Saturday or Sunday.
“Staff sought approval for several parking revenue enhancement proposals, which are designed to increase parking revenue by increasing utilization at parking facilities, generating revenue from non-Metro riders and increasing transit ridership,” said boardmember Paul Smedberg.
The pilot programs will begin by the end of this fiscal year (June 30, 2018) and allow Metro staff to determine the effects of the proposals, including changes in ridership and usage and impacts on various populations, and learn more about the types of parkers on weekends.
“During the pilot, we’re really trying to understand who’s parking,” Nina Albert, director of real estate development for Metro, told the board’s Capital Planning and Real Estate committee on July 13. “We can charge a much lower fare, just to start collecting the data.”
Although the board did not discuss the proposals at the full meeting, during the committee meeting Alternate Director Malcolm Augustine said he was a little worried about losing ridership on the weekends due to the change.
The goal of the proposals is to go from the current utilization rate (the percentage of time Metro charges for use of its facilities) of 46 percent annually to 65 percent of the total available hours.
The board also amended the use regulations for WMATA properties “to allow the sale of food and beverages on Metro parking facilities on weekends, holidays and weekends adjacent to such holidays,” as stated in the approved resolution. The general manager will have the authority to approve commercial uses of parking facilities as well as allow other “incidental, non-transit, public uses” of them.
“This amendment is desirable to attract farmers’ markets, sports events and other community and commercial activities,” board documents note. “Lease revenue from weekend commercial and civic uses will likely be minimal and projecting increases in ridership would not be reliable, given the lack of ridership data for such activities, so no revenue is projected from weekend uses.”
The report estimates $4 million in additional revenue, solely from leases with non-transit users.
Katherine Kortum, chair of Metro’s Riders’ Advisory Council (RAC), said RAC had been briefed on the proposal and was planning to offer suggestions about specific retail opportunities Metro could pursue. She specifically mentioned sunglasses and sunscreen sales at Smithsonian station.
In the resolution, the board also granted the general manager the authority to implement on a station-by-station basis, a non-Metro user parking fee. Four stations, including New Carrollton and Greenbelt in Prince George’s County, already have such a fee. Another change to the fee is the decision not to charge Metro employees the non-user parking fee, which at New Carrollton is $8.85 per day, compared to the $5.20 fee charged to Metro riders. Employee ID cards will be quickly updated to reflect the new, lower parking cost.
Two stations, Largo Town Center and Morgan Boulevard, also charge a Special Events fee of $25 for patrons of events at the nearby FedExField. The board authorized a public hearing to gauge impacts and opinions of expanding that program to other stations. If such a fee were implemented during the Women’s March in January of this year, Metro would have earned an additional $500,000 just from the standard Daily Parking Rate.
The total impact of all the parking revenue enhancements is about $4 million, according to board documents, with an implementation cost of $350,000. This is in addition to the $4 million from the leases.
Board Chair Jack Evans said Metro is trying to find as much wiggle room as it can in its budget to show the funding jurisdictions that it is doing all it can and needs additional funding help to be successful.
“We have done everything we can. We’ve raised fares, we’ve cut the service, we’ve trimmed our workforce, we’ve looked at parking,” Evans said. “We have done absolutely everything to take it off the table so that when the jurisdictions come back to us, they have no other solution other than to fund us.
“I think it’s important as we go out to the region and ask for more money, whether it’s a dedicated tax or whatever the eventual solution is, that we are able to portray that we at Metro have done everything we can to squeeze every last nickel out of every place.”