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D.C. parking program encourages city workers to drive to work

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Local,DC,Eric P. Newcomer,Vincent Gray,Metro and Traffic

Eager to reduce the share of cars on the road, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray's plan for a more environmentally friendly city urges businesses to provide their employees incentives to take public transportation, walk or bike.

But the city does not heed its own advice, instead offering its roughly 30,000 employees parking at a discounted rate.

District government employees pay for parking at a rate far below the market value. Workers that park in a government-owned lot operated by the District's Department of General Services pay $140 a month. And if District government employees park in a public lot, some agencies -- including the Office of the Chief Financial Officer -- subsidize the additional expense over that $140 monthly rate.

A spokesman for the city's CFO acknowledged the program provided "partially subsidized" parking District-wide.

BestParking.com -- which maintains a list of parking garages' monthly rates in the District -- indicates that the cheapest monthly parking available in downtown D.C. costs $190. The average District monthly parking rate is $244.27, according to an analysis conducted by BestParking for The Washington Examiner.

Over just a year, a D.C. government employee essentially receives a $1,251.24 discount when compared with the average free-market monthly cost. Government officials could not say Monday afternoon how many government employees receive parking at the $140 rate -- and a spokesman for the Department of Human Resources wrote in an email that the "District does not have a citywide parking subsidy program."

Ward 3 Councilwoman Mary Cheh said some of the District's policies "encourage driving," adding that "it does seem to cut against our sustainability goals."

The mayor's Sustainable DC plan sets out to reduce the share of commutes taken by car from about 50 percent now to 25 percent by 2032, while increasing the share of bikers, walkers and mass transit riders.

The plan encourages large employers to allow their workers to trade in the value of a parking space for a mass transit subsidy. The Sustainable DC plan also recommends businesses enable tax-free bicycle purchases by allowing their employees to take out a loan to buy a bike and then repay the loan out of their paychecks using pretax transportation dollars.

For its part, the D.C. government does not offer either program for city employees.

The city flatly does not offer benefits for employees who bike to work, and only about 7,700 union employees receive a $25 monthly Metro subsidy.

"At the very least, the policy should reward people as much for taking other modes of transportation -- or at least give them the choice without pushing them to driving," said David Alpert, founder and editor-in-chief of the blog Greater Greater Washington.

All D.C. government employees are allowed to pay commuting costs directly out of their paycheck, avoiding taxes on a work expense -- but that program benefits drivers and Metro riders alike.

Presented with findings in this story, Doxie McCoy, a spokeswoman for the mayor, said: "The response is that the mayor continues to encourage sustainability in all areas including employee transportation."

She also said, "The Sustainable DC plan was just released this year, so it's a work in progress."

enewcomer@washingtonexaminer.com

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