By Beth Treffeisen
Street parking in neighborhoods like Beacon Hill just got some extra needed relief with the passage of the updated version of the City’s street occupancy permit program this past Wednesday, December 14 during the Boston City Council Hearing.
Boston’s street occupancy permit program allows residents, contractors, and utilities to perform construction, renovations, maintenance, and other important infrastructure improvements to the City.
But, at the same time, the program takes away valuable on-street parking from residents who are already facing a parking crunch in downtown Boston.
By modernizing the program Boston City Councilor Josh Zakim hopes it will help free up some on-street parking spots in an already dense area.
The ordinance has changed the pricing of permits for anyone who needs to take up space on the street for construction, painting, cleaning, demolition or other similar purposes to pay an initial fee $50, up from the previous price of $20.
It now also imposes a daily fee as opposed to a monthly fee to provide an incentive to finish the work in a timely manner.
Language has also been added to include fees for not taking down the ‘no parking’ signs after their allotted times.
“They run them, put them up and they’re not so quick to take them down – littering our neighborhoods,” said City Councilor Michael Flaherty.
For each daily period, which the permit is being used, an additional fee of 10 cents per square foot for the first 500 square feet and 5 cents for any additional square footage on the street being occupied or obstructed at any one time is charged.
Previously, it was $1 per square foot per month plus $20 per day if it is in a metered parking spot.
Permits for public utility work will now require a $20 permit fee for clearing manholes and placing testing equipment for each location as opposed to an annual fee per ward.
Permits will not be granted for more than one month.
It costs the City $7 million to run the street occupancy permit program and the City currently collects about $5 million in fees.
City Councilor Zakim, who represents Beacon Hill, Back Bay and Fenway neighborhoods, said he started to work with the Boston Transportation Department and Public Works about two years ago to address some concerns.
He said, “One of which was the proliferation of the street occupancy permits on resident parking areas, particularly it’s an issue downtown but I hear it across my district, where folks are pulling these permits because it was such a low fee.”
Before this legislation was passed, on average it would cost about $200 a month to have parking permit space on a city street. Often times, the user would leave the permits up or continue to use them not for the necessary use, extending the time.
Currently the City uses a three-prong approach with the Boston Transportation Department (BTD), Public Works Department, and the Boston Police Department who work together to ensure that contractors are not taking advantage of the system.
City inspectors also perform weekly compliance checks to ensure that the permit matches the actual amount of street occupancy.
With the exemption to two minor changes this is the first time it has been modified in any way since 1982.
“Obviously costs have gone up in the time since and I think raising these rates will brings us not only in line, closer to the fair value they should be getting for use of parking on our streets,” said Zakim. “But also it incentivizes folks to be realistic.”
Zakim continued by saying that if the work is going to only take five days then the permit holders should only be using them for five days.
Often times Zakim says people abuse it and use it for other things for an entire month or worse leave it vacant, leaving residents worried that they still can’t park there.
Even before passage, permit holders already are supposed to take them down but by being able to issue littering violations Zakim hopes it will help curb this problem.
“Not only is this visual pollution for our neighborhood but people still think this is a no parking zone,” said Zakim. “They’re driving around circling their neighborhood looking for parking and they see these permits – it’s incredibly frustrating.”