Boston officials will test new curbside parking and pull-over restrictions next year, as part of an experiment with several other US cities to reduce the congestion caused by so many Uber, Lyft, and UPS vehicles and food-delivery services crowding into downtown streets.
The initial effort will be modest: testing restrictions on at least one city block, for at least one month, as part of a collaboration with Minneapolis and Bellevue, Wash., and led by the Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group Transportation for America. But Boston officials said the test could lead to long-term changes on the city’s increasingly congested roads.
“Fundamentally, as you can imagine, there is an increase in competition for access to the curb,” said Vineet Gupta, planning director in Boston’s Transportation Department. “We now have to address issues such as [Uber and Lyft] pull-up and drop-off, parcel delivery, food delivery, which is huge of late. . . . We have to figure out flexible rules and regulations.”
For now, Boston officials have few details — such as when and where new rules will be in force, or even what kind of restrictions they are planning.
Across the country, municipalities are struggling with how to make the best use of precious curbside space amid the rise of online shopping and ride-hail services, the proliferation of bus and bike lanes, and populations that are spiking in many urban areas.
Boston is no different. In November, the Boston Globe Spotlight Team tracked how a sharp uptick in deliveries and passenger services has compounded the problems with traditional delivery services to slow traffic.
Transportation for America director Beth Osborne said Boston was selected from among a dozen cities because its city officials seemed committed to using the limited pilot program as a starting point for more thorough policy changes.
“We really wanted cities that . . . had a plan for how they would use the pilot for something broader,” Osborne said. “The whole point of a pilot is not to do an experiment and say, ‘That was fun.’ ”
Gupta said the city’s experiment may explore using curb space for different purposes at different times of day. Kris Carter, cochair of Boston’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, said the city may focus on finding space for on-demand delivery services, such as GrubHub and UberEats, as well as restaurant deliveries, through the pilot program.
Drivers for on-demand delivery services have said they feel under so much pressure to complete deliveries that they often violate traffic and parking laws; at a City Council hearing in November, a driver noted that bad customer reviews can result if deliveries are not made directly to doorsteps.
For the most part, cities have not focused on whether to put a price on curbside space, said Bruce Schaller, a New York transportation consultant who monitors the ride-hail industry. So far, the goal has simply been to cut down on double parking and to ease congestion.
“The effort has been to get participation from delivery companies and Uber drivers and the like,” he said. “If you price something you’re trying to get people to use, you undermine these things.”
In Boston, city officials said they are working on other congestion projects beyond the Transportation for America initiative.
For example, in parts of the Fenway and Seaport neighborhoods at certain hours, ride-hail drivers must use designated pull-over spaces and can’t stop in travel lanes. Such zones are likely to be used in other parts of Boston next year.
The drop-off areas are a hit with the ride-hail companies, which have a history of fighting regulation. Uber says the Fenway spot has sped up pick-ups and has recommended several other locations in Greater Boston.