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Paying the right price for parking

Posted by Anthony Flint  March 2, 2011 10:59 AM

The parking meter hungrily took in my quarters in the Back Bay the other day, buying me 12 minutes per 25 cents to leave my Prius on the street, up from 25 cents for 15 minutes. But as I am cursed with particular knowledge of parking policies in cities, I didn't feel aggreived. The Boston Transportation Department says the increased meter rates are still a bargain, and they are right about that.
Parking.jpg
Philadelphia charges $2 an hour, Chicago, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., rates are as high as $3 per hour, and in Los Angeles, the fee is as high as $4 per hour. As BTD points out, parking meter fees have not changed since the mid-1980s when the old nickel and dime meters were removed. Gas was a little over a dollar a gallon and a movie ticket was about $3.
It's a difficult thing to do politically to raise fees of any kind. But Boston could have easily gone even further. Cities practically give away the valuable real estate of a parking space, and should do more to price the spaces appropriately as part of an overall management of driving in our dense downtowns, says Donald Shoup , author of "The High Cost of Free Parking." There's all kinds of transit available in cities, and we all make choices in part based on incentives. Gas is heading back to $4 a gallon, and if parking is another cost consideration, fewer people might drive into city centers. New technology is available for those who do drive to find spaces quicker without circling blocks quite so endlessly, using mobile devices and newfangled meters. This has turned into both a strategy to reduce congestion and to reduce carbon emissions, and it's what's behind London's decision to charge drivers about a $16 toll to enter the city center.
Look for New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to try again with "congestion pricing" to drive south of 86th Street in Manhattan; his first attempts were batted away. London has had good results -- far less congestion, less pollution, and the revenues get poured into better and better transit service. Boston may have to wait for New York to go first before considering such a move. But there's one other thing the city can do in the meantime -- stop requiring residential developments to have 1.5 parking spaces per unit, in locations near transit. People are moving back downtown to walk and take the T, become a one-car family or perhaps lose the car entirely. We should be going from parking minimums to parking maximums, to truly keep up with these changing times.

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About the author

Anthony Flint is a fellow at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, a think tank in Cambridge, Mass. www.lincolninst.edu and author of Wrestling with Moses: How Jane Jacobs Took on More »

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