Prime city parking may soon get pricier
Rates would vary according to time, location of meters
Boston drivers could soon need nearly an entire roll of quarters — or a credit card — to park at some meters.
Under a proposal announced Thursday by Mayor Martin J. Walsh, the city would boost the price of select parking meters at peak times near Fenway Park and other commercial districts, hoping to free up spaces and ease congestion.
Say goodbye to the rate of 25 cents for 12 minutes, or $1.25 for an hour.
How high will meter rates go? Boston officials haven’t decided, but in San Francisco, peak rates climb to $7 an hour.
“The bottom line is: $1.25 an hour isn’t working in our busiest areas,” Walsh told several hundred business executives in a speech to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. “I like offering a good deal — but not at the price of stress and gridlock on our streets. . . . And we should be looking at any plan that can help us change that.”
The theory is that cheap meters encourage drivers to remain parked for longer stretches, forcing other cars to clog roads as drivers hunt for spaces. Higher rates, city officials said, may make people reconsider driving to shopping and dining destinations such as Charles Street, and opt instead for mass transit.
In San Francisco, prices for on-street meters that are part of the city’s “dynamic parking” initiative range from 25 cents to $7 an hour, depending on congestion and demand.
Rates on meters near the Giants’ AT&T Park rise on days with baseball games, when on-street parking is in high demand. But on weekends, drivers need just a quarter to park for an hour on an empty street near San Francisco City Hall.
Near Fenway Park, Brookline already hikes the price of meters on Beacon Street during Red Sox home games.
Boston’s chief of streets, Chris Osgood, described the city’s proposal as a “targeted effort” limited to the most congested streets.
Officials plan to study the potential impact on the Fenway, Back Bay, and other neighborhoods to determine an appropriate cost and institute a pilot program next year.
“We’re looking for reasonable change,” Osgood said. “We’re not looking to significantly increase the parking meter rates. We are looking at being able to improve the parking experience in the city.”
Parking can be a volatile issue in Boston, and Walsh told reporters he was ready for resistance.
“People are going to start pushing back before they even know the plan,” Walsh said. “I just encourage people to wait to see the plan.”
As Mark Sarcione prepared to leave his parking spot Thursday on Charles Street, he said he believes the mayor’s proposed parking program is simply about raising money, not reducing congestion.
Sarcione said paying $2 an hour would be too steep, let alone the $4 to $7 that drivers pay at select meters in San Francisco.
“Two-fifty for 2 hours is more than enough,” he said. “This isn’t New York City. This is Boston.”
Sarcione, who often drives from Salem for work, said he doesn’t believe higher prices will deter people from parking downtown.
“It’s never going to happen,” he said.
But after Shannon Jacobs spent 45 minutes trying to find parking near Beacon Hill, the Wilmington resident said he thought the program could help. As long as it’s cheaper than parking in a garage, he said, he would be fine with raised prices.
“When I first paid the meter here, I was like, ‘What? This is so cheap,’ ” he said.
In his speech at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel, the mayor also vowed to crack down on double-parking downtown and said the city will use new technology to stop vehicles from choking intersections at red lights, a practice known as blocking the box.
In San Francisco, the initiative launched as an experiment in 2011.
In general, San Francisco officials say, the fluctuating prices have helped drivers find on-street parking. In neighborhoods where the city tested the program, drivers reported taking 43 percent less time to find a space, compared with 13 percent less time in areas with meters that didn’t change rates.
Andy Thornley, who manages the SFpark program for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority, concedes some San Francisco drivers weren’t happy about the prices. But he insists the approach is sound, relying on basic economic principles.
“We price apples and airline seats based on demand,” he said. “Why do we have just one price for parking on the street, whether it’s Tuesday morning or Friday afternoon?”
Boston is in the process of a $6 million project to replace roughly 8,000 old-fashioned parking meters with modern devices that accept credit cards. The new meters include technology that will allow officials to raise and lower rates.
The mayor acknowledged that finding the right price will be a difficult balance because fees can’t be so high that “people are discouraged from parking.”
Transportation Commissioner Gina Fiandaca said the new meters would allow the city to create parking zones. Premium parking may cost more at meters on Newbury Street, but less expensive spots may be available on Berkeley Street.
A meter with a lower rate may give people an incentive to park farther away and take a walk.
“This will be very much a data-driven approach,” Fiandaca said. “We want to push this information out to the consumers so there will be no surprises when you get to the meter. You will know how much the meter rate will be.”