Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Wilson Building bureaucracy has an ever-expanding number of revenue-producing uses with the automobile, the latest being the selling of precious parking spaces in various cramped neighborhoods to the two competing car-sharing companies in the city.

Anyone who lives or works in the city knows that finding a parking space is the ulcer-causing endeavor that curses all. It is the surcharge of doing business with the tax-and-spend city whose leaders employ cameras and a legion of meter maids to wrest as many dollars as possible from harried residents and commuters. It is the growth industry that shows no signs of abating, as more speed cameras are installed throughout the city, ostensibly to save lives.

Of course, the 13 members of the D.C. Council are not apt to see parking as the compelling intrusion that it is. These part-time legislators excused themselves from the parking wars years ago with a measure that granted them free access to previously illegal curbside spots. They have the people’s business to conduct and no time to waste circling a block in search of a parking space.

It is the contention of city transportation officials that the car-sharing companies provide a useful service to residents and visitors alike, which is true. All kinds of businesses provide useful services. It is not the job of government to grant these businesses public parking spaces in exchange for a fee, especially in a city that grapples daily with a fundamentally vexing equation.

Officials estimate that on any given day, there are 175,000 more vehicles than parking spaces in the city. That is the source of the eternal madness, the never-ending quest to be at one with the asphalt.

In parking-plagued Adams Morgan, where eateries and watering holes beckon those outside the neighborhood, the challenge of finding a parking space is a threat to the quality of the evening.

The frustration is enough to drive you to drink, which leads to another money-making racket — the enforcement of the zero-tolerance nuttiness. Or, as the Williams administration likes to think, how one who has consumed a bottle of beer or a glass of wine over dinner is no different from the professional drunk whose breath could knock down a tree.

City transportation officials think the proliferation of the car-sharing vehicles eventually will ease both the traffic and parking woes in the District. They might as well think that the vehicles will improve the public school system, clean up the Anacostia River and lead to world peace.

How they imagine this scenario is from studying other localities, as if other urban areas reflect the uniqueness of the nation’s capital, a relatively small, high-density city enveloped by the millions who call the suburbs home.

The city has been bleeding residents since 1950, and there is one overriding reason for it. Who needs the aggravation? Or as a visitor recently put it: How do people live like this? In the idyllic vision of transportation officials, they think more and more city residents will part with their automobiles and join hands in communal harmony in front of a Flexcar or Zipcar.

City officials do not really want the latter to happen. They want a city chock-full of automobiles, both from residents and commuters. This is an endless source of revenue that fills city coffers and employs those who feed at the vehicular trough — from tow-truck operators to the parking-enforcement brigade.

If everyone in the city suddenly relinquished their automobiles in favor of mass transportation and the car-sharing option, city officials would throw up their revenue-seeking arms and say, “Hey, we were just kidding.” The city’s selling of parking spaces to private businesses is really just more of the same.

You see an automobile and equate it to a sense of freedom or an extension of a person’s personality.

City officials see an automobile as a piggy bank.

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