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The new meters could allow the city to automatically adjust parking prices according to demand or time of day.
The new meters could allow the city to automatically adjust parking prices according to demand or time of day. David L Ryan / Globe Staff/Boston Globe

The City of Boston will replace parking meters citywide with new machines that allow drivers to pay with their credit cards — and eventually their smartphones — instead of pocket change, Mayor Martin J. Walsh said Wednesday.

The new meters, estimated to cost about $6 million, could one day be used with an app for smartphones that would allow drivers to find free spots. City officials say the new meters will be installed within a year.

The new meters, once they are installed on Boston’s 8,000 metered spaces, could allow the city to automatically adjust parking prices according to demand or time of day. This innovation frees up spaces during higher-demand hours.

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“Let’s be honest, parking and traffic is a problem in the city of Boston,” Walsh said at a City Hall press conference. “One thing I’d love to see is more people take public transportation in and out of town because of the lack of parking and the cost of parking, but it’s an issue that we’re looking into tackling right now. It’s not an easy one to solve.”

With its older meters and static prices, Boston lags behind such cities as San Francisco, which uses smart meters for pricing that can be adjusted according to demand.

“That’s the way to manage the parking, so that no matter when you go to park, you’ll see one or more open spaces,” according to Donald Shoup, a University of California Los Angeles professor who studies parking.

In Boston, city officials are trying to catch up with such innovations. In January, the city unveiled ParkBoston, an application that allows users to pay for parking meters with their smartphones. They launched a trial program for ParkBoston on certain streets in the Back Bay, and officials say they want to eventually expand the technology to all metered spaces.

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About 260 of the new meters are currently in use for single parking spaces around Boston Common and Charles Street, according to Gina Fiandaca, the city’s transportation commissioner.

Kris Carter, of the mayor’s office of New Urban Mechanics, said the city needs the data the new meters will provide before it can develop apps to help people immediately find parking.

“We want people to find a space when they need a space,” he said. “We want to make it easy.”

The announcement on the new machines came on the day the Globe reported that City Hall does not have an accurate count of its parking spaces.

Concerns about parking have also cropped up amid plans for the city to install protected bike lanes on a stretch of Commonwealth Avenue near Boston University from the Boston University Bridge to Packard’s Corner. The move is a victory for cyclists, who had been pushing for more bike protections along the corridor for years.

City officials say 73 of 177 parking spaces on the section of Commonwealth Avenue would be eliminated after the city installed the cycle track, repaved streets and sidewalks, and widened the platform for the Green Line.

Walsh acknowledged that some drivers will object to the removal of spaces from an area that is already congested. But he said he believes the trade-offs are worthwhile.

The cycle track is part of a larger plan to reduce fatal crashes involving vehicles, pedestrians, and bicycles, according to city officials. Walsh announced that the city will adopt a nationwide initiative called “Vision Zero,” which aims to reduce fatal accidents.

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“The goal is to give a sense of safety to residents, and that might take a number of steps, including looking at lower speed limits and trying to provide visual cues to drivers to slow down,” said Vineet Gupta, the director of planning at the city’s transportation department.

City officials would develop new policies with representatives from the transportation department, the police department, and other agencies, as well as WalkBoston, a pedestrian advocacy group.

On Wednesday, Walsh also announced that the city hopes to change its policy of either towing cars or issuing $40 fines to owners of vehicles parked in an area that should be cleared out for street sweeping.

The city’s proposal would eliminate towing and increase fines to $90 to capture more revenue.

In 2014, 26,149 cars were towed for street sweeping.

The city plans to complete a test run on the new policy before implementing the move citywide. City officials have not chosen a timeline or prospective neighborhood for the pilot program.


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