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Parking vouchers urged for Sox fans

City Council bill seeks rainout relief

The City Council is taking up a measure today to help rained out Red Sox fans by forcing Fenway Park-area parking lot owners to issue vouchers that can be used during makeup games.

The city, which issues licenses to more than two dozen lots near the ballpark, would tack a condition onto those licenses requiring owners to comply with the rainout policy, said Council President Michael Flaherty, who filed the measure.

The plan already has some support on the council, including from Councilor Michael P. Ross, whose district includes Fenway Park. And it has a preliminary stamp of approval from the Red Sox.

Flaherty also may have picked the right time to propose such legislation. There are seven Red Sox games scheduled at Fenway next week and possible rain showers forecast for at least the first four game days.

''It's about common sense," Flaherty said yesterday. ''It's the right thing to do, and nobody should have to pay for a service they don't use."

It is the second effort city officials have made to rein in parking costs in as many years.

After some fans complained that lot owners charged $100 for parking during the 2004 playoffs, Mayor Thomas M. Menino ordered repeated inspections of the city-licensed lots in an attempt to get them to lower their prices. He used the tactic because there was no proof of the cash transactions, and lot owners denied overcharging customers.

The mayor also filed state legislation to increase fines for price gouging. That bill, which would raise fines from $300 to $1,000 per offense, is scheduled for a vote today in the state House of Representatives.

If it passes, the measure will need approval of the Senate and the governor before becoming law.

Parking prices on game days vary wildly, from maximum fees of $30 at lots such as the one owned by the Red Sox on Brookline Avenue, to $90 at Leahy's Mobil station on Boylston Street, according to city records.

While the city cannot cap the prices, it can require lot owners to stick to the maximum fees listed on signs in their lots, city officials said. When lots charge more than their signs advertise, they can be cited and fined.

Besides clearly posted prices, the city requires lots to provide parking accessible to the disabled, keep the sites clean, properly store flammable materials, and provide access for emergency vehicles.

Flaherty's initiative would simply add the rainout provision to those requirements, he said.

''It's time for lot owners to be more respectful of the financial burdens on their customers when games are rained out," he said.

Since the beginning of the 2001 season, 10 of 18 games rained out at Fenway Park were called off after their scheduled starting times when fans already would have paid for parking, according to the Red Sox and news reports.

Some lot owners may resist Flaherty's proposal, but some said yesterday that they are willing to look into it.

David Eppstein, vice president of operations for MASCO, which comanages the Red Sox's four lots, said it may be a complicated process, but it might be better for business in the long run by keeping customers happy.

Eppstein said he would prefer a program in which rained-out drivers mail their receipts to parking companies, who would then mail back vouchers.

He said that having attendants at the lots distribute vouchers would increase the risk of theft, because the attendant would be carrying around the vouchers.

Currently, cash taken by lot attendants is quickly removed from the premises, he said.

Also, he said mom-and-pop lot owners may have a harder time administrating such a program. Still, Eppstein said he wants to work with the city on the proposal.

''It's certainly a good idea that anybody who doesn't get to go to an event doesn't have to pay for parking," said Eppstein, who said that on game days at least 650 drivers use the lots he manages.

A spokesman for the Red Sox said last night that the team is looking favorably at the proposal. ''We're happy to continue our cooperative relationship [with the city] and consider this latest idea," spokesman Charles Steinberg said.

No matter what form it takes, Flaherty's measure already has received rave reviews from some fans, including Lee Vaughan, whose complaint spurred the proposal.

Vaughan, a West Roxbury resident, said she spent $474 before the Red Sox-Yankees game on May 2 started: $400 for tickets, $40 for parking, $22 for a souvenir cap, and $4 for Cokes.

When the game was called off before the first pitch because of rain -- 45 minutes after Vaughan and her 5-year-old son, Jack, had parked -- she was angry and took her complaint to the City Council.

''When you add everything up, it's ridiculous," Vaughan said yesterday. ''I understand that these guys make their money during these games, but they shouldn't be taking advantage; when a game's rained out, they should give a refund."

Jeremiah Manion of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Donovan Slack can be reached at dslack@globe.com.

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