MBTA to try surge pricing for parking

Rates will rise at busiest lots but fall when demand is minimal

THE MBTA PLANS to adjust rates at its 99 parking facilities starting August 1 in a way that hikes prices at its busiest garages during the week and lowers them when and where customers are scarce – on weekends and at certain lots.

The rate changes will be the first in 10 years at the T. Overall, weekday prices will rise at 32 facilities, fall at 21, and remain the same at 46. On weekends, prices will go down at 98 facilities by 50 percent, while the rate at the remaining parking lot – the one at Sullivan Square – will remain unchanged at $6.

Evan Rowe, the T’s director of revenue, said the transit agency began exploring variable pricing because some of its garages are full by 7:30 a.m. and others never fill up. He said the goal of the new policy is to raise rates at the busy garages in a bid to reduce demand a bit and lower rates at the underused garages to induce demand.

At the T’s three busiest garages – Alewife, Braintree, and Quincy-Adams – the current price of $7 will rise to $10 on weekdays and drop to $3 on weekends. At parking lots at Forest Hills, Oak Grove, Waban, Wellington, and Sullivan Square, weekday rates will rise from $6 to $9 and weekend rates will drop to $3, except at Sullivan Square.

The T also plans to start charging an event rate — $2 above the standard price – on nights when there are special events, such as a sporting event or a concert. T officials said they plan to add more premium parking (spaces close to the terminal that can be reserved for a higher price), to crack down on scofflaws, and to assess a higher charge on those who want bills mailed to them.

The overall parking strategy is expected to raise an additional $8.5 million in fiscal 2019, which starts July 1. Of the total, $6.5 million will come from the new pricing strategy with the remaining $2 million coming from the other initiatives. The total amount is $1.5 million more than the T had planned for in its budget for the year.

State transportation officials and members of the Fiscal and Management Control Board rarely disagree on major policies, but the parking debate revealed some divisions on the board and within T management.

Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack, MBTA General Manager Luis Ramirez, and control board chairman Joe Aiello all urged the board to go with a less aggressive policy that would have hiked parking rates by a total of $2 million less. But the three other control board members at the meeting – Steven Poftak, Brian Shortsleeve, and Brian Lang – as well as Michael Abramo, the T’s chief administrative officer, wanted to push for a more aggressive pricing approach.

Pollack fretted that higher parking rates – even after 10 years – could prompt some riders to abandon the T. She was also concerned that assessing higher fares at Braintree and Quincy Adams, two facilities undergoing renovations, could make the T’s customers angry. Pollack said she views parking rates the same way she views fare increases – regular, modest increases are the best way to go.

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Aiello said he thought the parking increases were too much too fast. “I just worry about being a bit too aggressive first time out,” he said.

In the end, Aiello joined his fellow board members in supporting the T’s pricing plan after they agreed to revisit the situation at the end of the year when more data is available on how riders are responding to the changes.