Dear PoPville – Valet Parking Abuses


Dear PoPville,

I wanted to email you about valet companies/restaurants probably illegally profiting from the use of public parking spaces.

I was meeting a friend last night for dinner in Chinatown, and found a spot to park. It was by 7th and Indiana. As I was in the middle of parallel parking, a man in a valet parking uniform came up and blocked my way claiming it was a valet spot.

I’m a little familiar with Chinatown and I know that certain spots are marked as valet spots. I challenged the guy and said ‘doesn’t look like it. There’s no special valet sign, just a normal sign stating the zone and that it’s a 2 hour spot.’ We argued back and forth for a bit but as he was not budging and another spot opened up, I just went ahead and took that spot. I was pretty sure the guy was being sketchy so I called Dc police to ask about parking policy; I was told that if there’s no special valet sign they can’t just randomly claim any parking space by standing on it. The police said that they would be happy to come over and settle the dispute. I said it was okay as I had found another spot and that I wanted to know what to do in the future.

Of course, I pretty much knew that those sketchy valets knew but I decided to confront them and tell them that they were wrong. They pretended to play stupid and instructed to talk to the restaurant manager that they were working for. When I spoke to the restaurant manager, she instructed me to call the valet company they use to contract out the job. Of course, neither party is taking any responsibility and is not even pretending to remedy the obvious abuse of public property. (I.e “We will look into it.”)

Anyways, it incenses me that private companies like this should be profiting from public parking spaces like that. They should at least do the decent thing and get a permit for that like most every other restaurant. So anyways, I would like to write a letter to the appropriate DC government agency and I was wondering if you could direct me.

District Department of Transportation?

Example of how a valet sign should look:


37 Comment

  • ah

    That very valet stand drives me nuts. I drive past it in the evening, and they routinely block the parking lane when there are rush hour parking/standing restrictions. Because it’s rush hour, any reduction in lanes creates large backups, but they do it all the time.

    I doubt they have a permit for valet parking there. I hope that DDOT goes after these folks before they spend time looking into attractive ways to hide trashcans that might violate some public space provision.

  • Next time just keep parking and don’t back down. People aren’t allowed to hold spots. He’ll think he can intimidate the next person. You should have threatened to call the cops.

    • But your car might get keyed once you walk away… In my case it’s not worth the trouble, and it’s up to DC Gov to fix those issues, not me.

      • Wouldn’t damaging a car be illegal?

        On the other hand, this works both ways. A box of stale donuts dumped on the roof and hood of the offending vehicle ought to help. The seagulls will do the rest. Let the valet company explain it to the customer.

        • That would hurt the owner of the car being parked more than the valet parking company.

          I would try to find the ANC in which the restaurant is located. ANC’s have so much influence over licensing and permits that restaurants are wary of running afoul of them. They should be able to help this restaurant be more community-friendly (the restaurant will pressure the valet company to act more politely).

  • thebear

    My neighborhood successfully fought back against one of these jackwagon valets last year for the very same reasons. The restaurant was denied their valet permit. Take photos of violations. Contact the police *and* the DDOT Public Space people. If you live in that neighborhood, contact your ANC commissioner as well. It takes some effort but it will get results.

  • what was the restaurant? if they get complaints, you know the issue will change.

  • Give people an inch and they’ll take a mile. Good for you to call their BS. Another thing to look out for/ignore are invalid emergency no parking signs.
    Hand-written signs are invalid. Only signs issued by the DC government are valid. Parking cones and other items left in parking spots are also not lawful. Move that stuff aside and park your car.

  • clevelanddave

    Add to this the new rules that cut down on non resident parking in places like Adams Morgan and soon there won’t be any parking spaces at all. Why does the city refuse to build parking garages that would alleviate the parking problem in some high density areas and provide a nominal source of revenue to the city?

    • Possibly because they did that with the DCUSA parking lot and it sits mostly empty most of the time?

      • I love that DCUSA garage and it looks pretty busy every time I use it

        • The bottom level of the DCUSA garage is mostly empty at any given time. They didn’t even let people park on the bottom level for the first several years that DCUSA was open because there was no demand for it. That garage was built at Target’s insistence, and to many people’s surprise, most people take mass transit to DCUSA.

        • those are all old articles.. Perhaps things have changed since then. I sure appreciate the parking garage. Yes, mass transportation would be great and I use it when I can, but my purchases at Best Buy or Target usually require a car.

        • Is more than one level of DCUSA’s parking garage now open? (I’ve never used it myself, so I don’t know.)

          Sure, the articles are old… but if you read them, you’ll see that the parking garage cost the District $42M to build, and it was losing more than $2M on it every year for a number of years (even if it isn’t now — I’d like to know the current profit/loss figures). I hope the idea proposed in 2010 — allowing commuter use for $6 a day — helped to stem the financial loss.

          That should adequately explain a reluctance to get involved in future municipal parking-garage ventures.

        • I also don’t usually drive there but will on occasion if I’m heading somewhere in my car after shopping. The only time I have ever noticed the bottom level open was during the December holiday shopping season. Whether it’s open more generally, I can’t say, but just about every time I’ve been there even the first level is under used.

    • jburka

      It’s called public transportation. Why does Adams Morgan or Penn Quarter (or any other hot neighborhood) need to give up residential and commercial density for parking spaces?

    • Perhaps because they are advocating a public policy agenda to making driving as difficult as possible? Take away parking/make it very expensive/make it a huge pain in the ass, then people will be incentivized to use other forms of transportation.

      It’s worked for London, New York, and other major cities. It will work for DC too, so long as the public transportation infrastructure keeps improving (which it is, IMO).

      • While I agree, the fact that the metro system is largely closed now, in the recent past, and for the foreseeable future on weekends has me eating out in the Maryland suburbs when I live in DC because I can’t park downtown easily and can’t take the metro there. I agree with public policy incentivizing public transpo use, but feel really suburban lately due to metro track work.

  • You did the right thing to notify the police. Perhaps you should have asked the cops to stop by the valet stand to rough them up a bit, without your involvement.

    The problem with standing your ground and taking the parking spot is you’ll probably come back to a keyed car and flat tires.

  • I used to be a valet parker for Atlantic Valet. It was suggested to us that our blue AV jackets gave us some leeway with cops, so we were encouraged to push our luck with parking spaces, especially around the mall. Just sayin’.

  • the other thing that really annoys me is when they put a traffic cone or a parking sign on the street right before the valet area start, essentially taking out a parking spot.

    • thebear

      Placing *anything* in the roadway is expressly prohibited. Photograph, call the police, DDOT, and the ANC. And, tell the 911 operator that you *will* meet the responding officer. It took us a couple of months to get DDOT to finally yank the permit…and it wasn’t particularly easy getting some of the officers to understand what the problem was. The offending restaurant and valet even continued to violate the law after DDOT told them that if they didn’t stop they would lose the permit. That was the last straw for DDOT.

  • Yeah, I had a dispute over the same thing with the illegal valet guys at Mate at 31st and K next to the Georgetown Loews Cinema. I pulled into a space and they ran over and said that was reserved for valet only. I told them they didn’t have a sign for valet, and they walked me over to a piece of paper taped in the window of the restaurant and said it was their valet permit and it allowed them to reserve the space with a cone (even though there wasn’t even a cone there when I pulled in). The paper CLEARLY said “APPLICATION for Valet Parking Zone” and the date on it was from a few months back and it said at the bottom in bold, all caps letters “THIS IS NOT A PERMIT FOR VALET PARKING”. I called them on their BS, locked my car, and said “if you can get a valet zone ticket on the car, I’ll pay the ticket to the city, and if you can get it towed, then tow it, but I’m not moving”. Came out of my movie two hours later and the car was still there, with no ticket.

    After that experience I called DDOT and educated myself on the issue. Without the red and white “Valet Staging Zone” city-issued sign on a pole, a valet company has not right to keep you from parking in a spot. In fact, without that sign, they aren’t even operating a legal valet parking operation, and DDOT *wants* for you to report them, and advises you to call the police as well. Those signs are the only way a motorist knows they’re parking with a legit company, and not just some random dude with a vest and a sandwich board sign that says “valet” on it who sets up on a corner and waits for a guy with a nice Mercedes or BMW to drive up, hop out, and hand him the keys so he can steal your car and go for a joyride.

    Furthermore, to get a Valet Staging Zone permit and the signs, the valet company has to prove that they have a lease on enough spaces in a private lot within walking distance of where they pick up and drop off cars to accommodate the cars they are given to park. IT IS NOT LEGAL AT ALL for a valet company to park a car that has been left with them in any curbside space, anywhere, ever, even the space in the Valet Staging Zone. That zone is not for parking, but is ONLY for picking up and dropping off cars. They want you to report it to them as well if you witness a valet driver park a private car in a curbside space, even if they feed the meter when they do it.

    That’s the main reason so many places run these illegal operations – they try to convince DDOT’s Public Space Committee that they have an agreement with a lot that’s nine blocks away to park the cars, and DDOT doesn’t buy it – they know the valet guys aren’t running back and forth nine blocks at a time with every car and that they’ll probably just park them on the street between here and there, and they deny the application.

    So, long story short, if it doesn’t have that sign, you WILL NOT get a ticket and you CANNOT be towed. If the valet does anything other than immediately back down, call 911 and ask for an officer to assist you (311 in DC, for some crazy reason, cannot dispatch police for non-emergency issues). When the officer arrives, explain what happened and ask them to deal with the valet company. And then go ask for the manager’s card at whatever establishment is running the valet, and CC them on an email the next day to DDOT reporting the violation. I’ve done that twice since my experience with Mate a year or two ago, and mysteriously both valet stands have since disappeared from the restaurants in question…

    • Thank you for this, I had no idea about this type of thing. It also makes me think that nearly every valet for a restaurant is not legal.

  • Frankly, I’d be tickled pink if they got rid of any and all valet parking services that don’t have a contract with a nearby parking garage. That the valets use on-street parking is somewhat beyond the pale.

  • Valet parking?

    Wow. How lazy do people have to be?

    Anyway, I’ve found that the ANCs and DDOT respond professionally and quickly to complaints.

  • This happened to me on a Sunday morning downtown near McPherson Square. I parked in the spot (which was not remotely near the restaurant and not reserved for valet parking). The guy was a total jerk. I was worried about our call getting keyed too, so I walked across the park to the restaurant and talked to the manger and expressed my concerns. She was very receptive, gave me her card, and said to contact her if anything happened to our car. The valet guys gave me a very dirty look and I believe mumbled an insult to me as I left the restaurant.

    • Re-reading my comment, it probably doesn’t make sense to say that the parking spot wasn’t remotely near the restaurant since the restaurant was just across the park. But the spot was just a regular metered spot and not on the same block or street as the restaurant.

  • I’ve confronted this too. Its total BS. Next time, call 911 from your car.

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