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County Wants To Raise Bethesda Parking Rates Again

By Aaron Kraut

Tuesday - 4/2/2013, 9:15am  ET

Parking meters in a county garage in downtown Bethesda

Lately, springtime in Montgomery County has usually meant debate on raising parking rates in downtown Bethesda.

This budget season will be no different, but this time around County Executive Isiah Leggett is seeking more parking revenue through a revised rate structure, not the straight up increases of past years.

Leggett’s FY 14 budget proposal for the Bethesda Parking Lot District (PLD) would make on-street meter parking $2 an hour, parking lot spaces $1.25 an hour and parking garage spaces 80 cents an hour. Existing rates are $1.25 an hour for any parking space up to four hours and 80 cents an hour for any long-term parking in excess of four hours.

If approved by the County Council, which will introduce the changes this morning, the new rate structure would take effect on July 1.

Bethesda business leaders unsuccessfully argued against parking rate increases in each of the last two years, arguing the increases would discourage customers from coming to the area. They also argued that any extra revenue would not help plug county budget deficits since all PLD revenue goes to parking improvements or to the Bethesda Urban Partnership, the county-funded Business Improvement District in charge of maintaining and marketing downtown Bethesda.

In 2011, the county raised long-term parking rates for more than three hours of parking from 65 cents to 75 cents an hour against the wishes of the business community. County Councilmember Roger Berliner (D-Bethesda-Potomac) said the increase was necessary to fund the PLD’s reserves with the coming construction of the Lot 31 underground garage, then estimated at $86 million.

The project was reduced to $60 million and construction on it began last year.

In 2012, the county raised parking rates at on-street, lot and garage meters to $1.25 an hour for short-term parking of up to four hours and up to 80 cents an hour for long-term parking of more than four hours. Monthly parking passes were also increased to $150 a month. Leggett proposed no bump this year for monthly passes.

Unlike in past years, the county has not proposed a Saturday rate. Parking is now free in county garages and lots on the weekend and at on-street parking meters on Sunday.

Leggett’s recommended FY 14 budget includes the expansion of a pilot smart meter program to all on-street spaces.

In the past, county leaders have argued the increases are meant to encourage people to ditch their cars without making them too much of a burden for those who will drive.

The Council will hold a public hearing on the proposed changes on Tuesday, April 23 at 1:30 p.m. Berliner’s Transportation & Environment Committee will review the changes and likely make recommendations to the full Council at its budget worksession scheduled for April 26.