LANHAM, Md. (CBSDC) — It may be the most coveted parking permit in the nation’s capital. It’s called the “Zone 9” permit, and it allows tens of thousands of drivers in our area to no longer worry about parking meter fees or parking restrictions in residential neighborhoods.

Zipcar, the car-sharing program that allows its members to rent cars by the hour, has reached a deal with the District Department of Transportation that exempts its 850 cars from having to pay at metered spaces. Zipcars are now also exempt from any residential parking restrictions.

Car2Go, the other car-sharing program operating in the District has had the same exemption in place for its members for about two years.

The Zone 9 permits allow cars to park for as long as they want at any legal parking space — whether it’s at a meter or in a residential neighborhood for free. Cars are not allowed to block rush hour lanes or park in a spot where parking is prohibited, such as loading zones or in front of fire hydrants.

Zipcar is paying the District about $255,000 a year for the exemption, or $300 per car. Car2Go has a similar arrangement for its cars, but uses a different payment structure.

Since Zipcars spend most of their down time parked in their “Home Space,” which are not on the street, the company pays the $300 per car for the times when they are estimated to be parked on the street. Zipcar’s Home Spaces occupy about 40 on-street spaces, which the company pays $2,980 per year for.

Car2Go, which has been using the Zone 9 permits for about two years, pays the District $2,980 per year for each of its approximately 450 smart cars because they are all parked on public streets when not in use.

Enterprise Rent-A-Car is also getting into the car-share business here in D.C. The company has about 40 cars and is in negotiating with the District for its own Zone 9 permits.

Sam Zimbabwe, DDOT associate director of planning and policy, says the permits are a win-win for the city.

“We’re trying to make car-sharing a reasonable way to live in the District and to allow District residents to own fewer cars and reduce pressure for parking for everyone.”

Some residents and commuters think paying $300 a year to avoid pumping the meters — and more importantly, being able to park on any neighborhood street all day — is a pretty good deal.

Mike Charlton has lived on Capitol Hill for years, where he says getting parking tickets is part of living in the city. He thinks the “Zone 9” permits are great for the car-share customers.

“I don’t know if it’s a good deal for the city, but it’s certainly a good deal for Zipcar. You rent one and don’t have to worry about paying to park or what zone you’re in; yeah, I think that’s a real advantage.”

Off-street parking on Capitol Hill or downtown can cost hundreds of dollars a month. And it’s not just commuters or D.C. residents who might find it a good deal, companies with large fleets operating in the District may also like the option of pre-paying for metered and residential parking permits.

In the neighborhood around Nationals Ballpark — where parking is restricted to residents only for most of the day and night — a car-share customer could park for free just steps from the ballpark without fear of getting a ticket and without paying a penny for parking.

They would still be paying the hourly rental fee for the car, but based on the cost of off-street parking around the ballpark, it could make financial sense to rent a car-share for the trip to the stadium.

“To my knowledge, we haven’t had a big problem with Car2Go in the ballpark area,” Zimbabwe says, “but if it becomes a problem we’ll have to look at the program.”

Officials at DDOT say there are no plans to make the permits available to individuals, but they might consider expanding the program for other commercial fleets.

WNEW Senior Correspondent Mark Segraves contributed to this report.

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