A city-run bus system? Parking meter prices that fluctuate by the hour?
They may sound far-fetched, but those are some of the recommendations that have landed on Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s desk.
Without fanfare, Walsh’s transportation transition team released a report earlier this month on how to improve the city’s transportation system. Most of the conclusions were unsurprising: encourage more people to bike, walk, and take transit; continue Hubway; crack down on double-parking. And there were lots of wonky policy recommendations, such as “establish culturally-sensitive and linguistically appropriate mechanisms for accountability and public engagement in decision making” and “create and appoint a transportation advisory committee.”
But sprinkled throughout the 21-page report — compiled by a host of transportation advocacy groups chosen by Walsh’s staff, along with a former state transportation secretary and the current heads of the MBTA and the Registry of Motor Vehicles — there are some pretty unconventional ideas that could ruffle a few feathers.
1. Point-to-point car-sharing service: The transition team wants Walsh to request proposals for a car-sharing service that would allow drivers to leave their rental cars in city-owned parking spots around the city. Zipcar blankets Boston, but each vehicle has a particular home where the it must be returned — great for errands or day-trips, but not helpful for one-way journeys. Point-to-point car-share already exists in Washington D.C., where rental cars can be ditched at most any on-street parking spot and drivers are charged 41 cents per minute of use.
2. Real-time parking spot signs at parking garages: The report suggests installing real-time digital signs outside city parking garages indicating the number of available spaces, technology that could help drivers avoid circling aimlessly for a garage with space. It’s big in Europe.
3. Street rankings for plowing and pothole repairs: The transition team proposed that City Hall staff rank each of the city’s streets on a scale of A to E, rankings that would help public utilities crews prioritize necessary work. “This will foster increased transparency and allow residents to have an understanding of when their street will be paved, plowed, or repaired,” the group wrote in their report. The idea could be controversial: If you live on an A-rated street, your streets will be plowed, like, yesterday ... but live on an E street, and you might be waiting a while.
4. Peak-hour metered parking rates: The report asks Walsh to examine current parking policies and consider implementing variable parking rates for on-street meters, which would increase during high-demand hours. In downtown Los Angeles, hourly parking meter rates fluctuate from 50 cents to $6, depending on the time of day.
5. Lower speed limits: The transition advisors want Walsh to lower the speed limit on some roads to 25 miles per hours — or at least, they want him to have the power to change it. Speed limits in business districts are automatically set at 30 miles per hour by state statute; the transition advises Walsh to lobby the state Legislature for cities to have more flexibility to decide for themselves.
6. A city-managed bus service: The state operates MBTA buses; some companies and universities charter their own bus shuttle systems for employees. Walsh’s transportation transition advisors think the city should consider operating its own bus service to supplement the T. Stephanie Pollack of Northeastern, one of the members of the team, outlined her vision for this bus service in the Globe last year:
As you linger over your morning coffee, your phone beeps to tell you the HUBus is two minutes away. But there’s another one in 10 minutes, and you decide to wait. Even once you’re aboard, you can use the bus’s Wi-Fi to finish that project for work.
It’s almost hard to remember the days before shiny blue-and-gold HUBuses crisscrossed the streets, when Boston’s only public transportation was run by the MBTA ...
The HUBus network doesn’t use any technology that didn’t exist in 2013—it just puts it together in ways that change commuting dramatically. And it doesn’t replace the MBTA, just supplements it with more flexible, responsive transit that pulls the city together.
7. Signal prioritization for Green Line trolleys and buses: Many transit advocates believe that buses and light-rail trains should have automatic right-of-way at intersections, in order to make the route faster and encourage more people to take public transit. Peter Furth, a civil engineering professor at Northeastern University, has studied the possibilities for signal prioritizarion at the Ruggles Station bus depot; if implemented, it could cut the rate of delays for the station’s outgoing buses in half. “If we can put a man on the moon,” Furth said at a recent campus presentation, “we should be able to get buses through the green light without messing up any of the other traffic.”
Martine Powers can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @martinepowers.