Skip to Content

Are Boston's Parking Tweaks Working?

At the outset of 2017, the city of Boston launched an experiment, tweaking parking rates in a couple of high volume neighborhoods where getting a free space is a fairly difficult task.

In parts of the Back Bay, that experiment seems to be working — but not necessarily the way it was supposed to.

This morning, despite some beautiful spring weather, a bevy of spots around the intersection of Berkeley Street and Newbury Street sat empty, sometimes for a few minutes, sometimes for quite a bit longer.

According to Meg Mainzer-Cohen, the head of the Back Bay Association, that used to be unheard of.

“It was literally impossible,” Mainzer-Cohen says. “You’d drive around and around, trying to find a space.”

Things changed, she says, after the launch of a city pilot program that hiked parking rates in that neighborhood. Two hours now costs you at least $7.50 as opposed to $2.50. The rationale was that higher rates would create more turnover, and drive more traffic to local businesses, while also reducing distracted driving and pollution.

“We think the program’s been a success,” Mainzer-Cohen says. “In fact, we think it’s been too much of a success.”

The problem, she explains, is that those new, increased prices actually seem to be keeping customers away. Or, as she puts it, “Our hypothesis is that the cost is a little too high.”

But at G2O Spa & Salon, a few blocks to the west on Newbury Street, they have a slightly different take on the ongoing city pilot. At first, G20’s client-relations director Lisa Hills says, pricier parking hurt the bottom line.

“In the beginning, definitely...clients were coming a little bit less,” Hills says.

But now, she adds, most patrons seem to have adjusted to paying a couple extra bucks before, say, getting a $125 massage.

The bad news? At least in this particular part of the neighborhood, she claims, finding a free space is as hard as it’s ever been.

“It’s still not opened up much parking,” Hills says. “[T]hat was their intent, was to try to get people to move quicker and not be here all day, but I don’t think that’s happening at all.”

So if everyone in the Back Bay is dissatisfied — but for totally different reasons, what’s the city to do? One possibility: hike rates even higher near Mass. Ave — but drop them just a bit over by the Public Garden.

Back on Berkeley Street, Mainzer-Cohen has a particular price point in mind: six bucks for two hours. That could work like a charm — or render the whole Back Bay un-parkable once more.

Ilona Kramer, a program director for Mayor Marty Walsh’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, says the city will release a preliminary report on the efficacy of the Back Bay parking pilot program and another pilot underway in the Seaport in June. 

Both pilots will run through the end of 2017.


WGBH News coverage is a resource provided by member-supported public radio. We can’t do it without you.