Parking meter rates in the Back Bay and the Seaport District will soar next year under a test program that aims to reduce snarl, free up spaces, and shorten the time drivers spend circling for an on-street spot, officials from Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s administration announced Thursday.
The rates are set to increase Jan. 3, with drivers paying $3.75 per hour to park in the Back Bay and eventually up to $4 per hour in the Seaport. The current meter rate is $1.25 an hour.
The lack of available low-cost street parking has long been a source of frustration among drivers in Boston who try to avoid the city’s numerous high-price garages, which can cost as much as $40 a day. The new rates have not yet taken effect, but they are already sparking strong reactions.
“Oh my word,” said Larry Green, a staffer at the Snowden International School, as he was getting into his vehicle on Newbury Street Thursday evening. “I think I need to move to a different state. That’s ridiculous.”
But Walsh officials said their mission for the one-year test — called the Performance Parking Pilot program — is to open up spaces for all drivers by limiting the number of people who park at meters all day.
“We won’t really know until we try something,’’ said Kris Carter, cochairman of the mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, which helped launched the pilot program. “That’s why . . . we are interested in looking at it.”
The pilot, modeled after successful efforts in Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, is based on a soon-to-be released study by a local nonprofit, A Better City, that works to improve the city’s economy.
Boston officials say their goal is to make it far more costly for drivers who use the street spots all day. Instead, officials want to steer them to garages and lots, or encourage them to use other modes of transportation. They also want to make it easier for visitors to find a metered spot to shop at local businesses, dine, or run errands, thus boosting the economy.
“We think that some of the lessons that they’ve learned can really make this a success here, and will really make traveling in Boston a little bit easier no matter what road you are on,’’ Carter said.
But Vicki C. Smith, chairwoman of the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay, said many residents will not be pleased with the new pricing.
Smith said her group would have preferred a more “holistic approach” to the parking issue that takes into account the number of metered parking spaces, residential spaces, and people who visit the neighborhood. Furthermore, she said, her group met with city officials about the issue several months ago, and was never given specifics of the new rates.
“We were blindsided by this being implemented without our being able to work on a plan,’’ she said.
The pilot will affect approximately 1,650 spaces in the Back Bay, which has a mix of multispace and single-space meters that are about 90 percent occupied each day. The targeted area is bounded by Charlesgate, Massachusetts Avenue, and Beacon, Arlington, and Stuart streets. The higher meter rates will be effective until 8 p.m., after which street parking is free.
On Newbury Street, Annelie Mullen, 62, of South Boston, was headed to a shoe repair store after parking her car when she learned about the impending rate hike.
“That’s kind of bad,” Mullen said. “I guess they don’t get enough [revenue] from the parking tickets.”
Reaction was also swift in the Seaport.
City Councilor Michael Flaherty, who lives in South Boston, said that if the city’s goal is to boost revenue, then it should increase rates during major special events instead of targeting a specific neighborhood.
Flaherty said that if the city wants to increase turnover at the meters, it should target people who use handicapped parking placards illegally to occupy a metered spot all day.
“They are nickel-and-diming commuters, but the fact of the matter is, [nothing will be resolved] until they eliminate rampant abuse of handicap parking spots,” he said of the initiative, which is also being pushed by the city’s transportation and innovation and technology departments.
City officials said that parking meter prices have not been increased in Boston since 2011, when they were raised to $1.25 per hour. At the end of the pilot program, a portion of any revenue increase will be reinvested locally, the officials said.
City officials said they do not have an estimate as to how much they expect to generate in revenue for meter increases. All parking meter revenue is deposited into the city’s parking meter fund, and its uses are limited to transportation-related purposes, they added.
During the test program, the city will collect data on parking patterns on each block of the pilot area to measure how parking occupancy changes with the adjustment in price, officials said.
The scenario is different in the Seaport, where demand for on-street parking changes throughout the day. The program’s target areas include Seaport Boulevard and Summer, Cypher, and D streets.
City officials said the Seaport meters will have sensors that automatically adjust parking prices according to demand. Those prices will be reset every two months and eventually stabilize. The meter rates will begin at $1.50 an hour and adjust — up or down — by 50 cents every two months.
High-demand blocks will increase by 50 cents, while lower-occupied blocks will decrease by 50 cents, officials said. The minimum price will be $1 per hour, and the maximum will be $4 per hour, officials said. Prices also will vary depending on the time of day.
On Summer Street, a busy thoroughfare in the Seaport, some residents expressed disdain for the idea of higher meter rates.
“I think it will be a problem,” said Mustafa Hameed, 34, of Quincy, who frequently parks near the convention center in the mornings and said he worries about the hit his wallet may take.
“That will be an issue for me,” he said, adding that he may consider taking the T during the day.
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