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Starts & Stops

Are the days of free residential parking in Boston numbered?

David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/File

Could the era of free residential parking in Boston be coming to an end?

City Council president Michelle Wu wants to take a look at the issue in the upcoming term, listing “parking management” as part of her campaign policy platform.

Residential parking permits have long been free in the city, with no cap on the number of cars per household. A 2015 Globe review found that at least 300 residences have more than five parking permits. Shortly after that report, the city’s transportation department said it would review the rules, but so far nothing has changed.


Wu, an at-large councilor, said she has two main goals in exploring a parking fee: to encourage people to park off-street, freeing up spots for residents along roads; and creating a revenue source that could be used for transportation improvements such as better bicycle lanes or programming traffic signals to prioritize buses.

“We’re missing the opportunity to have funding available for infrastructure improvements around the city,” she said. “Everyone agrees there’s a problem [with parking availability], and that there needs to be more funding for safe-streets infrastructure. So I’m hoping to make the case to connect the two.”

Wu does not have a specific fee in mind, but she said it could potentially differ from neighborhood to neighborhood, based on demand. She also suggested discounts for lower-income residents, since some of Boston’s low-income neighborhoods have the least access to public transit.

Boston’s closest suburbs — including Brookline, Somerville, and Cambridge — all charge fees of $25 to $40 a year for parking permits. Also, overnight on-street parking is banned in Brookline.

Wu said she hopes the council will schedule hearings on the matter perhaps even before the next term. So what does Mayor Martin J. Walsh — currently in the closing stages of a reelection campaign — think about what could be a thorny political issue?


Representatives for the mayor deferred comment to the city’s transportation department, where spokeswoman Tracey Ganiatsos did not take a particularly decisive position. The city “issues residential parking permits as a public service to the residents of Boston,” she said. “The Boston Transportation Department looks forward to reviewing any parking proposal put forth by the City Council.”

The campaign for City Councilor Tito Jackson, who is challenging Walsh, did not respond to a request for comment.

Adam Vaccaro can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @adamtvaccaro.