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Massport plans parking rate hikes at Logan

The Massachusetts Port Authority is planning to raise parking rates at Logan International Airport’s terminal garages and lower rates at its four satellite lots in an attempt to ease the parking crunch at the airport while increasing revenues.

At a public meeting next week, the authority will consider increasing the maximum daily charge at the terminal-area lots by $3, from $24 to $27. Hourly rates at the central garage will remain the same for the first two hours, but will increase by $3 for subsequent blocks of time. For example, parking for three hours will increase from $15 to $18.

But Massport plans to cut the daily rate at its Logan Express lots by $4, from $11 to $7. The satellite lots, located in Woburn, Framingham, Braintree, and Peabody, require passengers to take a $22 shuttle.

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The price at the economy lot for longer-term parking, located about a mile from the terminals, will remain $18 a day.

The price changes are expected to generate an additional $10 million a year for Massport. Officials plan to propose the new rates at the next board meeting; they could go into effect as early as March 1.

Massport officials say the new prices are necessary to encourage people to park in remote lots as passenger numbers continue to rise. The airport hit a record high of 28.9 million travelers in 2011, and the number of cars parking in the terminal lots has been rising by about 4 percent a year.

The growth is mainly fueled by business travelers, who last year during the peak Tuesday-Thursday travel period filled the terminal lots to capacity a dozen times: This year, without any change in parking incentives, officials say the lots could exceed capacity in 30 of 52 weeks.

When the airport’s 16,500 spaces are all occupied, parking attendants fit about 1,500 additional cars into nooks and crannies, an inefficient system that requires Massport to pay workers to valet-park cars and leads to more fender benders in cramped quarters. When these extra spaces are all occupied, cars are sent to parking lots along Route 1.

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The airport isn’t allowed to build additional spaces because of a citywide parking freeze in effect since the 1970s.

Massport counts on parking revenues to help finance operations and construction. Airports are not allowed to make money from the terminal rents and landing fees they charge airlines, but Massport can use its parking profits to fund projects, including at the Port of Boston.

“It’s our most flexible form of revenue,’’ said David Mackey, Massport’s interim chief executive. This revenue is greatly needed, officials said. A sweeping 2009 state transportation reform law required Massport to turn over control of the Tobin Bridge - and the $20 million a year in tolls that it brought in - to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. The law also resulted in Massport acquiring the Worcester Regional Airport, which loses several million dollars a year.

Conley Terminal, where ships from Asia and Europe load and unload container cargo, also operates at a loss. The terminal is expected to suffer even bigger deficits this year following the suspension of a major cargo route.

Before the economic downturn, Massport was generating about $40 million a year in net income, said chief financial officer John Pranckevicius, but in fiscal 2011, despite the increase in passengers, the port authority only pulled in $13 million.

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“Our net income today is less than where it was after 9/11,’’ he said.

In an attempt to stave off the kind of public outcry that followed the last parking rate increase, Massport officials are encouraging people who have concerns to attend Tuesday night’s meeting at Logan’s executive offices on Harborside Drive. When Massport implemented a $1-an-hour increase in early 2009 without announcing it first, there was such a backlash that the authority rescinded it.

Massport officials admit they are walking a fine line by encouraging people to park in the cheaper remote lots while counting on enough of them to pay the increased rate to park at the terminal. But some analysts see it as a savvy solution.

Logan’s parking garages are virtual “money-printing machines’’ because there are no nearby parking alternatives, said Matthew Coogan, director of the New England Transportation Institute, a nonprofit research organization in Vermont.

“There’s a certain inelasticity to price,’’ he said, “because of the monopoly situation, which means that as they raise the price it won’t change by very much the number of persons who will end up parking there.’’


Katie Johnston can be reached at kjohnston@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ktkjohnston.