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Would market-based meter pricing help in Boston?

Posted by Chad O'Connor  June 5, 2012 04:00 PM

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When you have a car as I do it's a constant game of rationalizations: Should I drive into the city tonight or take the T from the burbs? How bad will the traffic/construction be getting in there? What are the odds I'll find a metered spot and not have to pay more for a garage? Am I going anywhere near Fenway/The Garden on a game night when I'd have to pay even more?

The other week I was in Philadelphia for a Boston sportsgasm weekend (Celtics were at 76ers and Red Sox were at Phillies; let's say the results were mixed, to be kind). I was mortified to see parking meters going until midnight! It makes an 8 p.m. meter with more quarters per hour in recent years seem like a downright bargain. In actuality, it is a bargain. The questions then become: 1. How much less of a bargain could on-street parking be without hurting businesses? 2. What would a market-based meter system do for parking problems and congestion? and 3. Would these changes help to alleviate the "mobile truck" bans that are in place?

In a down economy no one really wants to talk about raising fees. There's a legitimate fear that too much tinkering with parking could hurt prime shopping and restaurant areas. But let's take a quick look at - dare I say it - Los Angeles. For anyone who has ever been stuck in L.A. traffic hell only to have to worry about finding parking, one can imagine why the city would be interested in coming up with some interesting solutions. Last month, L.A. implemented a pilot market based parking meter program in certain downtown areas. About 6,000 meters will float from 50 cents to $6 per hour depending on time of day and how many people are looking to park on a certain street. You'll be able to use a smartphone to find open spaces and how much they cost, then pay through the app once you've parked.

The L.A. Department of Transportation thinks there will be multiple benefits to this plan. While there may not be any increased revenues from the floating structure, there should be decreased time spent looking for parking spaces and increased trips during off peak hours.

Would you pay $6 an hour to park at a metered zone on Newbury Street during prime dinner hours? Would mobile food/fashion/etc. trucks see any benefits in eventually being able to pay a market-based rate that floats based on their location, time, and the consumer demand for parking in that area?

While the city clearly has much to think about when it comes to regulation and permitting for these kinds of mobile trucks (ask my former student Derrick at Green Street Vault - in fact, go ask him in person at the Green Street Jungle pop-up shop they're co-running with AnnieMulz on Newbury or at the SoWa market on weekends while this is all getting sorted out. You can even tell him how cool it was they got some love on The Today Show) I can't help but think that it's not just a mobile truck issue but an overall parking fairness and pricing issue.

We've known this for years: it doesn't make sense that you can snag a meter for cheap less than a block over from the private lot that is charging an arm and a leg for game day parking near Fenway. I was glad to see the always thoughtful Scott Kirsner touch briefly on possible designated parking spaces for mobile trucks last week, but it's the kind of problem that likely needs a temporary fix before being reexamined as part of the overall parking problem in the city.

Chad O’Connor is a communication consultant, Adjunct Professor of Communication Studies at Northeastern University, and Boston World Partnerships Connector. He serves as a contributing co-editor of this blog.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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