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Parking struggle discouraging some from using MBTA

The vacancy rate at some T garages is less than 1 percent.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

James Jones knows he may as well drive to his engineering job in downtown Boston if he cannot get to a parking garage at the Alewife MBTA station before 10 a.m. By then, the parking spots are all gone.

“I got lucky today,” Jones said on a day he found a spot. “There are a lot of people who try to avoid coming here because of it.”

On weekday mornings, a line of cars snakes around the station’s two parking structures. Some drivers will wait as long as 20 minutes for a space.

Then there are those who give up and hit the highway, revealing a predicament for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority: The struggle to find parking is discouraging some commuters from using public transit.


As of late January, the T owned nearly 49,600 parking spots across the state, compared to the nearly 1.3 million rides it provides on a typical weekday. While it is difficult to know exactly how many parking spaces are needed by commuters, it is clear to some of them that the demand outpaces supply at several stations.

Donald Shoup, a professor at University of California Los Angeles who studies parking, said a lack of available parking spaces can “cause a lot of harm” for transit agencies, which want to keep their customers and expand the number of users.

“It does not help at a transit stop to have cheap parking and have no spots,” Shoup said. “It’s terrible to have a full parking lot determine the success of a transit system and the value of using transit.”

In recent years, the MBTA has sought to ease parking headaches. In 2012, MBTA officials opened a $53.5 million parking garage and bus way near the Blue Line’s Wonderland Station in Revere. A new $34 million parking garage with 500 spots opened in Beverly in August, and a Salem parking garage opened with more than 700 spots in October as part of a $44.5 million station upgrade.


But parking is still scarce at a number of stations. Aging infrastructure has contributed to the shortage.

In 2012, the agency permanently closed the Quincy Center garage because of structural damage, taking away 863 spaces. The Braintree and Quincy Adams stations are the closest parking alternatives.

David Pearson of Roslindale once wanted to take out-of-town visitors downtown on the Red Line.

But after he found the parking lots at both the Braintree and Quincy Adams garages full, he and his guests took the commuter rail instead, where there was more parking.

“It’s discouraging, and that’s why people just drive in,” to downtown, he said.

Pearson said he wishes the MBTA would add more spots or do a better job letting drivers know when the parking lots are already full.

Braintree’s 1,322 parking spaces are in high demand: On average, less than 1 percent of its spaces are available on a daily basis, according to the MBTA.

Fran Paolucci, a longtime Red Line commuter, said she has been commuting from Braintree to downtown Boston for 20 years, but parking has recently become such a nightmare that she has to get there before 7 a.m to find a spot.

“I made my hours earlier just to get a space in Braintree,” she said. “And still, sometimes I get one and sometimes I don’t.”


The MBTA does not plan to reopen the Quincy Center garage, but the city of Quincy has plans to build a garage that could include 500 parking spaces, said Joe Pesaturo, an MBTA spokesman. He said the MBTA has had “some preliminary conversation” with private property owners about leasing spaces near the Quincy and Braintree stations.

At Alewife, which has more than 2,700 spots, less than 5 percent of spaces are unoccupied on a daily basis, according to the T’s data. Construction that started two years ago has taken away about 35 spots until work is done this fall, according to Pesaturo.

Pesaturo also said in a statement that the agency cannot afford to add more parking now.

“Expanding parking at Alewife would require funds not only for design and construction, but also for land acquisition,” he said.

Those who watch the T agree that money is a factor.

“In the grand scheme of things, parking often goes by the wayside when it competes with operations,” said Paul Regan, the executive director of the independent MBTA Advisory Board. “If you’re the T, do you fix the drainage in the Alewife parking garage or do you fix the signals on the Red Line?”

But Shoup said there are solutions beyond adding more parking. Price adjustments could help: Currently, riders pay $7 to park for the day at Alewife and Braintree.

If parking prices are too low, lots fill up faster and discourage other riders, he said.


But if the prices are higher, some commuters may change their behavior — car pool, or take the bus — to allow for more midday parking for others. Some transit agency parking lots automatically adjust the price of parking based on availability and time of day, he said.

The vacancy rate at some T garages is less than 1 percent.Barry Chin/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Nicole Dungca can be reached at nicole.dungca@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ndungca.