Updated, 3:30 p.m.: Montgomery County’s electronic residential parking permit process, in place for about 18 months, has sparked complaints from residents who say they are unable to receive visitors or even help homebound family members.
“To go online and get what you need in this process has just become a nightmare for people,” County Council President Roger Berliner said in a meeting with reporters Monday.
If the county’s Department of Transportation can’t come up with remedies, Berliner said the council could insist the department return to using its former paper-based system.
The permit system is in about 50 county neighborhoods, mostly around Metro stations. The electronic system was put in place because of allegations—Berliner said he believed some were true—that residents were selling their paper parking permits and stickers to people who wanted to park closer to a Metro stop or school.
Under the former system, residents would need to fill out paperwork and get stickers for their cars from the transportation department. Now, residents must register their vehicles online or by phone. The digital method reduces the cost of enforcement, Deputy Council Administrator Glenn Orlin wrote in a memo to the council’s transportation committee.
“The enforcement officer can scan license tags from his or her passing vehicle much faster than physically walking up to a car to examine whether there is a valid permit. This means that an enforcement officer can make more frequent passes through a neighborhood in the same or less time,” Orlin wrote.
The County Council’s transportation committee met Thursday to discuss problems with the electronic parking system, during which Orlin’s memo and resident letters were presented.
But the online system has made it difficult for residents’ visitors to park without being in jeopardy of getting a ticket, Berliner said.
“If you have a party, can’t do this. If you’ve got people coming to your house to take care of your mother, you can’t do this,” he said.
“This is a situation where the cure is worse than the disease,” Berliner said.
In one of the letters submitted to the committee, Ellen Rader wrote that the electronic parking program will make it hard for her 84-year-old aunt to age in place, as the family plans. Her aunt often requires more than one person to help her, Rader wrote.
Rader described finding that she had received a ticket after dropping off hot food to her aunt’s home. The fine was ultimately dismissed, she said.
Transportation department spokeswoman Esther Bowring said only a few people object to the system.
“You have a group of people who have a new system they have to learn,” Bowring said. “Bottom line is to educate them and get them through the process. … We’re not hearing from people who are happy with the new system.”
If anyone has trouble with the computer system, the department maintains a call center that is open 24 hours a day every day.
Of the 50 neighborhoods that regulate on-street parking, 47 have switched to the digital system, which is timed to coincide when the paper permit process expires, she said. The transportation department sends mailings to each household explaining the new system. The first is sent two months before the paper permit expires, and the second is one month before it expires, she said.
Jose Thommana, chief of the parking management division of the county transportation department, said enforcement officers don’t focus on ticketing commercial vehicles parked temporarily in residential neighborhoods, and contractors can buy all-day permits.
If a resident is holding a one-time event, such as a party, the resident can request that enforcement of permit parking be suspended during the event, Thommana said.
And more than one person can have access to a household’s account, he said. So in the case of someone caring for a homebound family member, the caregiver can have access as well as the resident, he said.