It is a constant battle for many Metro riders. They get to the station and look for a parking spot, but the garage is full. So why are entire levels still empty and instead being sold for a premium?
"I've been late to work several times because I couldn't find parking," says Ellen Kim, who uses Metro on weekdays to get to her job in the city.
She passes all the empty spaces wishing she could park there.
As commuters toil in traffic to get to work every morning, thousands of Metro riders are fighting another kind of congestion in the parking lot.
"It's a nightmare. It always fills up," says Will Tysse, who got one of the last spots on the roof of the Vienna Metro station.
At the busiest parking garages, drivers sometimes carve out a spot wherever they can, squeezing into corners and parking illegally. Some stations fill up well before rush hour is even over.
According to Metro: The parking lot fills up at East Falls Church and Rockville by 7:45 a.m.; at Largo Town Center by 8:15 a.m.; and at Vienna, Branch Avenue and Shady Grove, all the spots are gone by 8:30 a.m.
Use the map above to see which Metro parking garages have reserved parking and how many permits are available
An hour later, you can still find empty parking spots, but these are for those with reserved permits only. It costs an extra $65 a month. That is in addition to the daily $4.25 parking fee, which adds up to about $85 a month if you park Monday through Friday.
Last year, reserved spaces earned Metro about $2.3 million.
"It's a money-making scheme," complains Elisha Pulivriti, who we found parking at Largo Town Center.
Those with reserved parking permits pull right into a spot during the peak commute hours when others are driving around aimlessly searching for spot in a lot that is otherwise full. Sometimes it is the only way for some people to get to work.
"It works for me. I have to go downtown. I pay a little bit more than I want to, but I'm pretty happy actually," says Andrew Burk.
If you can't get to the garage before the unreserved spots fill up, the other option is to drive downtown and pay to park there. That is not something Christopher Bright is willing to do, so he pays the money.
"Metro's got me right where they want me," Bright says. "That's a high price, but I really have no option."
The idea of paying for premium parking riles up people as much as High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes, where those who can afford the steep price can drive in special lanes without the congestion.
"I don't like the rules, but I also don't like the fact we have the Mercedes Benz lanes for hot lanes," says Metro rider Kathleen Moody.
Often reserved spaces never fill up. Metro's numbers show two-thirds of the 8,399 reserved permits have not been sold. As of June 2012, Metro shows Shady Grove had 660 reserved permits still available or 12 percent of the spaces in the lot. Franconia had 760 unsold permits or 13 percent of the spaces. These are empty spaces that are off limits during peak commute hours.
At Greenbelt, 419 permits remain available or 12 percent of the lot. New Carrollton had 388 or about 10 percent of its spaces and Huntington had 358 available permits making up about 11.5 percent of the total parking spaces.
All told, more than 5,000 spaces go wasted systemwide, enough to fill the entire Shady Grove parking garage.
"Some places are overutilized 110 percent; other places are underutilized around the region," explains Carol Kissal, Metro's Chief Financial Officer and Deputy General Manager of Administration. "We try to make the balance. We're not building more parking structures."
After 10 a.m., any unused reserved parking spaces are open to the public. Anyone who parks before that time risks getting a ticket. The cost is $50.
"This year, I've paid for one ticket," says Maybel Frempong. "I knew I was going to get a ticket anyway, but hey, I need to get to where I need to get to."
Metro is reevaluating its reserved parking spaces. In some underutilized lots, some of those spaces could be returned and opened to the public or the price of a permit lowered to $45-$50 to encourage more users.
"I think there are about 10 stations we're analyzing now that will probably have lower prices for reserved spaces," says Kissal.
Metro plans to make the changes to its reserved parking program in the fall. It has to balance between having enough parking for everyone; not just those who arrive early, but those who may need to come later.
"Otherwise, the people that need to come after 8:30 [a.m.] have no option. It would just be completely filled. So I guess I think it's okay that Metro makes more money and gives people more options," says Monica Herk.
One of the reasons the parking fills up so fast is most people who use the garage are single riders. If riders can't find a spot, Metro also encourages people to take a bus to the station, bike or use walking trails. Bottom line, there is not enough parking for everyone and likely never will be.
WTTG FOX 5 & myfoxdc
Didn't find what you were looking for?