When on-street parking is so cheap, we all suffer

The parking lot on Congress Street is one of the few left in Boston in the Seaport District.
The parking lot on Congress Street is one of the few left in Boston in the Seaport District.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Your front-page article about problems finding parking downtown misses the fundamental cause. Boston’s parking scarcity is artificial — it is caused by subsidies and distorted pricing — and it results in numerous societal costs.

Is parking somehow exempt from the principles of supply and demand that govern so many other commodities? Boston practically gives away on-street parking. If stores did that with goods, people would line up outside, and the shelves would be empty.

Who really pays so that metered parking will be cheap? All of us. Forgone permit or meter revenues are only part of the cost. Local merchants lose out because their would-be customers can’t count on parking.

Parking priced below market encourages car trips, circulating traffic, double parking, and unnecessary car ownership. The resulting congestion and pollution affect us no matter how we travel.


Off-street parking prices are pushed higher. Moreover, planning investments in alternatives such as bike lanes, bus lanes, and wider sidewalks can seem impossible when the parking spaces they would displace are seen as precious.

Let’s learn from other cities’ parking innovations, which show us that when we price parking appropriately, spaces become more available, alternatives to driving are more attractive, and the insidious harms caused by subsidized parking start to disappear.

Scott Englander