- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 27, 2005

Two car-rental firms have asked the District for permission to take over as many as 140 public curbside parking spaces — a plan that has some residents, already weary of the daily scramble for parking spots, grinding their gears and gritting their teeth.

“It’s been a pretty controversial topic around the area,” said Denis James, executive president of the Kalorama Citizens Association, which hosted a neighborhood meeting last night with city transportation officials and representatives from Flexcar and Zipcar, two firms that utilize smart-card technology to unlock rental vehicles, monitor usage and bill customers.

Both companies already operate in the District, but their fleets are parked mostly at Metro stations and in private lots. The expansion would put rental cars curbside in commercial and residential neighborhoods. The firms call the proposed 140 spaces, including 29 in Adams Morgan, a “wish list.”

City officials defend the program as a way to reduce the number of vehicles in the District.

“The point of the program is to reduce parking and traffic congestion in the neighborhood,” said Rick Rybeck, the deputy administrator of the D.C. Department of Transportation. Mr. Rybeck met last night with members of the Kalorama Citizens Association, the Mount Pleasant Neighborhood Alliance and representatives from Flexcar and Zipcar.

Many at the public meeting were furious about a plan that could hand over publicly owned residential and metered parking spaces to private, for-profit car-rental firms.

“We’re choking in Mount Pleasant,” said Laurie Collins, 52, who was skeptical about giving away parking spaces.

“I see more profit, more profit, more profit for the company,” she said.

Larry Carr, 61, who lives in Adams Morgan, said the car-sharing firms couldn’t prove that the presence of their fleets would reduce congestion.

“Unless you get rid of the same amount of cars, it’s going to take longer at night when it’s absolutely hideous,” he said.

“Many people are quite concerned, although a lot of us see that there is some benefit from car-sharing. We’re not against car-sharing, but the proposal is too open-ended,” Mr. James said.

Council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, was at the meeting, and he said he supported the efforts of residents to protect residential parking spaces.

“We can find new spaces without taking precious RPPs” or residential parking permits, he said

Mr. Rybeck said that, given the public opposition, approval for the requested takeover of residential spaces was off the table — for now.

“Out west, people will kill you over water. In D.C., people will kill you over a parking space,” Mr. Rybeck said. “We know it’s a sensitive issue for neighborhoods that are congested. For that reason, particularly as we implement this program, we are going to be very reluctant to designate any residential permit parking spaces for car-sharing vehicles. But over time, that may change.”

Mr. James said neighborhood residents want the regulation rewritten to specifically prohibit the use of residential spaces.

Mr. James said that using street parking in the heart of Adams Morgan also is problematic.

“In Adams Morgan, with the parking problems we have here, which are legendary, particularly on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, it’s hard to imagine that those signs will be respected,” he said. “But more galling will be that a space will be sitting empty when it is needed to bring customers in to local businesses.”

Kirk Palmatier, 49, has worked at the Brass Knob on 18th Street NW for 16 years.

“For the whole time I’ve been here, parking has been an issue,” he said.

The Department of Transportation is expected to make a decision on the car-sharing companies’ request by the end of February. The D.C. Council’s approval is not required, although Mr. Graham said it likely will take a look at the issue.

The council voted in July 2002 to exempt itself from the city’s parking regulations. The measure, coming after a year in which traffic-enforcement officers had cracked down on illegally parked council members’ cars, was sponsored by council member Carol Schwartz and supported by council members Kevin P. Chavous, Jack Evans, Sandy Allen, Adrian M. Fenty, David A. Catania, Harold Brazil, Vincent B. Orange Sr., Linda W. Cropp and Mr. Graham. Phil Mendelson, Kathy Patterson and Sharon Ambrose voted no.

The exemption, approved but criticized at the time by Mr. Williams, extended to council members the same parking privileges enjoyed by members of Congress — including the freedom to park in bus zones, in restricted spaces near intersections, at building entrances and on restricted residential streets. It also freed council members from having to put money into parking meters.

Mr. Brazil, Mr. Chavous and Mrs. Allen all lost re-election bids last year.

Notification of the proposed parking-space takeover first appeared in the November D.C. Register.

Flexcar and Zipcar are the two main car-sharing companies in the United States.

Flexcar was founded in Seattle in 1999 and operates in 20 cities in five states and the District. They have more than 125 vehicles at or near Metro stations in the D.C. area and a few vehicles at private lots in Adams Morgan. They report a nationwide membership of 25,000.

Zipcar was founded in Boston, also in 1999, and now operates in 21 cities in five states and the District. They have more than 150 vehicles in the D.C. area, most of them in private lots or garages and report a nationwide membership of 30,000.

After one-time membership fees, Flexcar charges $9 an hour and Zipcar $8.50 an hour.

Both companies cover gas and insurance costs. The cars can be reserved over the phone or the Internet and must be returned to where they were picked up.

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