Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff
In 2008, when the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority increased rates at its Boston Common Parking Garage, it noted they remained some of the lowest in town.
Three years later, the authority has decided to increase prices again with the same observation.
But what do the rates at a variety of surrounding, privately held parking garages have to do with the rates at the Common garage, a publicly owned facility? Taxpayers built it, first for the city of Boston, and then floated state bonds to reconstruct it.
What about the rising cost of materials, or debt, or personnel costs? Aren't they normally used to justify price increases?
None of those was the central focus last week when the authority's board, meeting in Springfield, voted to increase rates at the garage back in Boston.
Instead, a pricing presentation delivered before the board approved the rate increase focused on the garage's position within the market. And even then, the justification for a hike was thin.
"Other garages have no immediate plans for rate reductions or increases," said one slide in the 32-slide PowerPoint presentation. "Possess the flexibility to make rate changes as they please."
The increases that were approved take effect July 1, and in a world of $4 coffee, they may not be eye-catching on a dollar basis.
Short-term parkers during the workweek face the steepest hikes, $2 hits that boost the charge for the first hour from $8 to $10; for up to two hours from $12 to $14; and for up to three hours from $16 to $18.
But on a percentage basis, the hike is 25 percent at the low end of the scale and 12.5 percent at the high end.
And consider this: the cost for the first hour in the garage in 1995 was $4; come July 1, just 16 years later, it will be 150 percent more.
The cost of parking up to 10 hours will increase $1, from $22 to $23, while the rate for up to 24 hours is going from $27 to $28. Those are hikes of 4.5 percent and 3.7 percent, respectively.
Evening, weekend, and monthly rates are unchanged.
One slide in the presentation noted that the compound annual growth rate from the fees in 1995 through the previous hikes in 2008 averaged 4.3 percent.
An additional slide that could have been provided by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics would have shown the Boston-area inflation rate averaged 3 percent during that same span.
That is more than 25 percent lower than the growth in parking rates during the period. And it's a smaller percentage increase than any of the hikes approved last week.
Johanna Storella, the convention authority's chief financial officer, said the recovering economy and burgeoning parking market justify the increases.
"We wanted to take advantage of that upswing now, rather than in the future," she said.
Storella argued the garage can't be viewed in isolation but must be seen as one of four assets controlled by the authority: the garage, the Hynes Convention Center in downtown Boston, the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center in South Boston, and the MassMutual Center in Springfield.
The assembly halls are "loss-leaders," she said, so the garage helps support them financially.
"Every dollar we forgo in a very successful garage operation is an extra taxpayer dollar we need in some other way," she said.
Storella added: "We have to be good owners of state assets, and part of that is operating it as any private asset. And when the market can bear a price increase, you make it."
That may be, but the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority is among those quasi-public agencies that seems to be public when it's opportune and private when it's not.
It was public when the Legislature created it in 1982 so it could oversee public entities like the garage and the Hynes.
It was public when the Hynes was re-built and re-opened in 1998. And the garage was public when the authority needed the state to issue bonds so it could be rebuilt between 1992 and 2003.
But now, with those bonds repaid through parking revenues; with the garage admittedly running in the black; and with neighboring garages displaying no immediate plans to increase their rates, the authority is adopting a private-sector mentality and increasing its costs because it can.
Even with the increases, authority spokesman Mac Daniel told the State House News Service yesterday the rates "remain some of the most modest in town."
Folks who live on Beacon Hill, or like to park in a central location as they avail themselves of the Common, Public Garden, and some of the best Boston has to offer, may be happy to know that.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.