By Beth Treffeisen
Parking in the city of Boston continues to draw sharp criticism from both people who argue that the city needs more parking and those who think it needs less.
At the hearing to discuss parking in the City of Boston held on October 18, the sharp contrast could not be clearer between some of the city Councilors. But one thing everyone agreed on is that one of the biggest issues surrounding the city is public transportation.
“In most of the neighborhoods that I represent we shouldn’t need parking or cars,” said City Councilor Josh Zakim who covers the Back Bay and Fenway neighborhoods. “But if you can’t rely on the T most of this just sort of goes out the window.”
Although the city of Boston does not have control over the MBTA, City Council President Michelle Wu said that the city is working together with them to help make infrastructure improvements, such as bus stops and timing traffic lights, to help ease the problem.
Another idea that came up at the meeting to help alleviate the parking crunch evolved possibly raising the parking meter rates.
Wu framed the parking issues as an “environmental injustice” issue. She explained how circling for parking for 20 minutes, 30 minutes up to sometimes an hour in certain places adds to the environmental issues, causing asthma and other airborne illnesses.
“In a perfect world, on-street parking would be more expensive than garage parking,” said Wu.
City’s that manage parking well, said Wu, have this flipped. That way cars don’t have to circle for parking to be guaranteed a cheaper spot. This will help with congestion along with environmental and sustainable goals.
Currently, to park at a metered spot it costs $1.25 an hour. Whereas, to park at a downtown garage such as the one located underneath the Boston Common, that can get full a few times a week, costs $12 to park there for under an hour.
“We still have some of the cheapest rates in the country,” said City Councilor Bill Linehan.
There are currently 32 municipal parking garages located mostly in residential neighborhoods in Boston. As of now, there are no fees to park in them but there are two hour parking limits.
Councilor Linehan suggested putting meters in those as well and put that money towards creating parking elsewhere.
In New York City on street parking currently costs $3.50 an hour for any street below 96th St and $1.50 an hour for any street above. In Washington D.C. it currently costs $2.30 an hour. In San Francisco, the meter pricing can range from 50 cents an hour to a maximum $6.25 an hour. It is determined by the amount of demand.
That type of pricing, that varies with demand, Council President Wu believed might be a good option in the future for Boston, especially when there is a baseball game happening at Fenway Park.
Wu said, that no one is advocating for more expansive on-street parking compared to garages and she isn’t expecting anyone today to pay $45 dollars to park at a meter.
“There are businesses in every part of the city that should still be accessible to people from every economic background as well,” said Wu. “But we do need to be able to adjust pricing of meters to capture more revenue and also keep pushing alternatives to driving.”
The Boston Transportation Department (BTD) has three top priorities that they’ve been working on. This includes making parking more convenient, better managed, and less needed.
To do so, Chris Osgood the chief of streets for BTD said the department invested $6 million to upgrade all parking meters in the city to take credit cards and not just quarters.
They also rolled out two parking apps for mobile phones. One is ParkBoston, were users can pay for the parking meters on their phone and add time if needed without having to go back to their car. The other is PayTix, which allows people to pay for the parking tickets straight off their phone.
About 65 percent of parking transactions are now done digitally.
“It was very well received,” said Commissioner Gina Fiandaca from BTD. “You no longer have to go around looking for quarters. It takes the stress out.”
Along with making the transaction easier, ParkBoston has allowed BTD to read data in real time to see how they are performing.
“It really informed us on how our limited parking spaces are being used,” said Fiandaca.
As part of the Go Boston 2030 campaign, BTD will be releasing a more comprehensive study in the late fall that will show more in-depth some of their future and current projects BTD is working. After dealing with parking issues for a while, Linehan in an impassioned speech hopes to see real solutions in the future.
“The number one issue that faces our district is transportation,” said Bill Linehan who represents South Boston. “The planning if it, the enforcement of it, the programming of it, the investment of it and we are not doing enough. We are not – we need to do more.”