City weighs pros, cons of meter hikes

Raising the price of parking at a meter in Boston is an effective way to ease congestion and make finding a parking spot easier, but a city-run pilot program found that the results varied based on the pricing structure put into place.
In 2017, the city launched a pilot program in the Seaport and Back Bay neighborhoods to find out whether raising metered parking rates in some of the most congested areas would encourage drivers to use other modes of transportation or park in less-busy locations. After crunching the data of a year’s worth of parking in a report released Wednesday, the city saw success in the Back Bay and something less in the Seaport.

In Back Bay, the city raised the price of all meters from the standard $1.25 per hour to a flat rate of $3.75 per hour for the entire year. This “zone-based static pricing model” led to an 11 percent overall increase in available metered spots, a 14 percent decrease in double parking and a 33 percent decline in loading zone parking, the city said. The average stay at a meter decreased from one hour and 22 minutes in 2016 to one hour and eight minutes in 2017.

“The 2017 performance parking pilot has shown it’s possible to adjust meter prices and change our roads for the better, leading to less congestion, and more parking spaces for our residents and businesses, helping neighborhoods thrive,” Mayor Martin Walsh said in a statement.

Boston Transportation Department Commissioner Gina Fiandaca said the pilot program showed that altering meter pricing can make better use of the city’s “limited curb-space,” make it easier for drivers to find a place to park and does more to protect bicyclists and pedestrians from double parked cars.

But in the Seaport, one of the city’s fastest-growing areas that is plagued by transportation issues, the city found that its performance parking pilot “had little impact on the number of available spaces.”

Rather than simply raise the price of parking in the Seaport, the city used a “block-based dynamic pricing model” in which the meters on each block were priced independently between $1 and $4. Every two months, based on the number of available spaces, the city would change the price of the meters by 50 cents per hour with the goal of having one to two spots open on each block at any given time.
That approach proved far less fruitful for the city, the report found, and the 35 blocks that were part of the pilot saw an average occupancy increase of 4.6 percent, even as the city repeatedly raised the price to park. Total parking meter transactions declined by 1 percent, the city said.