Thursday, December 11, 2008

Transit and Parking Policies Working Together?

Will I drive to work? Ride the bus or Metro? Bike? Carpool? When making this decision, each of us weighs the cost, how long it will take, and how convenient our commuting trip will be. When government creates programs and policies to help more commuters choose alternatives to driving alone, the term often used is “transportation demand management.”

In its review of Montgomery County’s transportation demand management, the Council’s Office of Legislative Oversight found that the County actively promotes transit and other alternative commuting modes on the one hand but simultaneously implements parking policies that undercut efforts to encourage commuters to leave their cars at home. In other words, by providing plentiful, low-cost and conveniently located parking, the County makes it easy for commuters to drive alone, contrary to its goals of encouraging transit and other modes of transportation.

To bring parking policies and transportation demand management in line with one another, the County could offer incentives such as cash alternatives to employee parking subsidies or payouts to businesses that eliminate vehicle trips below a designated baseline. Alternatively, the County could provide disincentives such as reducing the parking supply or raising parking rates.
Either way, there are difficult choices to make. Economic incentives would have to be funded through taxes or fees, while disincentives would cost more to drivers and/or businesses. We know that reducing single occupancy vehicle trips is our best bet for mitigating congestion and reducing the greenhouse gases that cause climate change. But how do we get there from here? Take a look at the OLO’s full report and let me know what you think of the recommendations.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Ambulance Fee on Hold for Now

We all know that the proposed ambulance fee has caused quite a stir around the County. On November 25, the Council voted unanimously to table the bill. Because the County’s economic forecast indicates we may need to reconsider the bill in the spring, I’d like to take the time to clarify some of the issues.

The County Executive has proposed a fee of $300 to $800 for emergency transport in order to raise approximately $13.8 million annually for fire and emergency services. It is important to note that no county resident, regardless of whether they are insured, would ever receive a bill for a fee, co-payment or deductible. Rather, the amount would be billed directly to insurance companies. Tax revenue received from County residents would be deemed as payment for any portion of the fee not covered by insurance. Non-county residents would be billed for co-payments or deductibles but could seek a waiver.

There are many concerns about the fee from all sides. The County Executive has stressed that his plan is designed to charge health insurers, not County residents. Citing neighboring jurisdictions that charge a fee (the District and Fairfax, Frederick and Prince George’s Counties), the County Executive says that Montgomery County is essentially leaving money on the table that other local governments collect from insurance companies, Medicare and Medicaid. At the same time, opponents of the fee say that any charge would discourage residents from calling 911 for help in the event of an emergency. Volunteers, who comprise about 50% of our fire and rescue service, are also concerned that charging a fee is inconsistent with their volunteer function.

Residents currently all pay a Fire District Tax on their property tax bill which is dedicated to supporting various aspects of fire and rescue operations. The ambulance fee money is intended to be dedicated to fire and rescue infrastructure and equipment.

As always, I appreciate hearing your comments and concerns. It’s important for me to know what you’re thinking.

Monday, December 1, 2008

How Can the New Administration Help Us?

President-Elect Obama as well as leaders in the House and Senate have indicated that infrastructure and alternative energy projects will be a focus of the economic stimulus legislation. How can Montgomery County benefit from the anticipated federal spending? What projects or services would you like me and other local officials to pursue as a part of the stimulus package? Some have suggested transit constructions projects, while others have mentioned a program to retrofit buildings for energy efficiency. What do you think?