What’s behind Boston’s elaborate on-street parking regulations?


Parking regulations in Boston are under examination today in Eric Moskowitz’s piece in the Globe. He describes Back Bay shoppers receiving tickets for exceeding the two-hour time restriction after parking in multiple spots on the same block. The policy isn’t the problem, Moskowitz argues, rather it is the city’s failure to communicate the nuance of their regulations.

It’s a fair point. But what is the reason for placing artificial time restrictions on on-street parking? Boston Transportation Department spokesperson Tracey Ganiatsos says:

The basic purpose of parking meters is to provide short-term parking opportunities to customers of local businesses, those heading to a quick medical or business appointments, etc. If a driver is going to be in the area for a significant period of time, we suggest they utilize an off-street parking facility.

That’s a dubious claim. Presumably city officials (and retailers) want to keep on-street parking turning over and available for shoppers. But rather than price these prized parking spaces appropriately, we have arbitrarily placed a two-hour per day limit to parking on a given block. So if you want to shop for, say, three hours, you either need to move your car to a different area or fork over $15-20 to park in a garage. The former needlessly adds traffic to our congested streets while the latter is barely cheaper than the $25 ticket you might get for staying where you are.

Progressive cities, like San Francisco, have realized the economic inefficiencies with cheap on-street parking and are moving toward dynamic parking pricing. An hour of parking costs more during times where demand is highest, and less when fewer people are looking to park. The goal is to price parking to the point where a spot or two are always available on any block, if you’re willing to pay for it. It also makes parking in a garage more cost-competitive, even for short visits. This approach has been shown to help business and reduce traffic. (See Donald Shoup for much more on this.)

Moving toward a more rational parking policy would make parking easier, reduce confusing regulations, and bring in more revenue for the city. But it’s going to take some strong political will to effect such a significant change in a city notoriously against new things. Is anyone up for the fight?

One thought on “What’s behind Boston’s elaborate on-street parking regulations?

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