Editorials

editorial

Raise MBTA parking revenue, but not with blanket fee hike

Whether MBTA riders face a parking shortage depends on the meaning of “shortage.”

Roughly 50,000 parking spaces are available for the transit authority’s 1.3 million riders. According to a recent Globe report, that means parking is elusive at some lots.

The T, however, insists that those numbers do not add up to a lack of parking. On any given day, according to T spokesman Joe Pesaturo, thousands of MBTA-owned parking spaces are unoccupied and available for customers.

Advertisement

Given those dynamics, what’s the solution? The law of supply and demand usually dictates that when supply is low and demand is high, a higher price is the correct answer. But in this case, an immediate across-the-board parking fee increase from the current rate of $7 a day is not the best approach, argues Jim Stergios, who heads the Pioneer Institute, a conservative think tank.

Get Today in Opinion in your inbox:
Globe Opinion's must-reads, delivered to you every Sunday-Friday.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

As a Pioneer Institute study recently highlighted, commuter rail fare increases plus poor service have led to a decline in ridership. Higher parking prices would only exacerbate the situation. To address that and other ridership concerns, the Pioneer Institute makes these sensible recommendations:

  Conduct a market study to help the MBTA set prices in the way any business would — by asking parkers and potential parkers to consider what they think parking is worth and how much they are willing to pay for it.

  Get a better handle on where more parking is needed and which lots are underutilized. If safety is an issue, an audit of stations could quickly reveal areas where low-dollar investments such as lighting and cameras would make parkers feel more secure.

  Consider differential pricing for those who use parking apps and those who still opt to pay the old-fashioned way. The fine for “forgetting” to pay for a parking spot should also be higher.

Advertisement

  And, finally, consider that the T may not be the sole source of parking solutions. Localities should work with the transit authority and the state to establish helpful parking zoning around the stations, so that gas stations, churches, and stores can make parking available for a fee. The priorities for the state, the MBTA, and local communities should be to increase the number of people paying transit fares — which is good for the T, and will get people off the road.

Gross parking revenue for the T is about $40 million a year. Today, $15 million of that total is dedicated to paying down debt, due to a decision made by T management in 2011. Increasing revenue is a good idea, no matter what the meaning of parking “shortage.”