The County Board approved a test of surge-price parking in Arlington on Tuesday, after discussing the potential impacts on people with lower incomes.
The $5.4 million project is funded by VDOT, and the funds are expected to cover everything from developing to installing the needed parking software and hardware. Drivers will find this new type of parking on the streets in the Rosslyn-Ballston and Crystal City-Pentagon City corridors.
The program, also known as “performance parking,” was pulled from the Saturday meeting over concerns about how this would impact people with lower incomes, parking planner Stephen Crim said during the Tuesday recessed meeting.
“I don’t have all the answers to all those concerns,” Crim said. “The grant we are asking you to approve would pay for us to do the design and planning work that allows us to consider how people with low incomes, or racial minorities, need to be considered, and map out any mitigations that are necessary.”
The Board’s first equity consideration should be who has cars, Crim said. The program will mostly affect those who own one or more cars — namely, Arlingtonians with relatively higher incomes and households headed by white people, he said.
Rather than charging everybody the same price, this program could give drivers more chances to save money if they need to, by parking on less-popular streets at lower rates than currently offered, he said.
“Rates may go up on some blocks, but it may go down or stay the same on other blocks,” he said.
The higher prices on busier streets encourage turnover, which would also benefit this same group, he said.
“Those who are disadvantaged often lack money, but they also have time pressures that privileged individuals do not have,” Crim said. “We see performance parking as an opportunity to give benefit to time-pressed drivers of all backgrounds.”
After Crim spoke, County Board members told him they were comfortable moving forward.
“I’m so glad we’re doing a pilot,” Board Chair Libby Garvey said. “It is a complicated tool that can be used for good or ill, and we want to use it for good.”
The issue drew one public speaker concerned about equity. Alexandra Guendert said the new prices will be unpredictable, making it hard for people to budget trips.
“To think that $5.4 million to essentially create a system to get the rich better access to parking is disheartening,” she said.
The prices will not be as prone to hourly fluctuation as prices for Uber and Lyft, Transportation Commission Chair Chris Slatt, who supports the pilot, said during the public hearing.
“People are able to know before they go what that parking may cost, depending on where they find it,” he said.
With the County Board’s blessing, the next step will be to engage the public and start developing a system that detects how full parking spaces are, Crim said. After the system is installed, it will start collecting data to fill out a database, which will be used to analyze occupancy and ultimately determine future prices.
Eventually, the County will be able to publish real-time information on spot availability.
Work on the new system along the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor and Crystal City-Pentagon City corridor is expected to start kick off during the current fiscal year, which ends on June 30.
A successful pilot could motivate other municipalities to follow suit, VDOT told the County in 2018. If people ultimately do not like it, the County could turn off the pricing function of the system but still collect data, which would be valuable for drivers and the Board, noted Crim.
“Parking is important to many people, but we frequently don’t have as much data about parking as we do about other matters, such as traffic volume, speed, transit ridership, so on,” he said.