T eyeing congestion pricing for parking

Considers hiking rates at busy garages and lowering them elsewhere

THE MBTA APPEARS TO BE considering a form of congestion pricing for its parking garages.

Congestion pricing has become a hot topic in transportation circles lately as advocates push for new ways of using tolls to influence driving behavior. On the Massachusetts Turnpike, for example, advocates are pushing for an increase in toll charges at peak-driving periods in an attempt to prod some drivers to commute at off-peak times and ease overall congestion.

Evan Rowe, the T’s director of revenue, outlined a similar plan on Monday for the T’s parking garages. In a presentation to the T’s Fiscal and Management Control Board, Rowe raised the possibility of increasing daily rates at parking facilities with high occupancy to ensure parking availability and maintaining or decreasing daily rates at parking facilities with lower occupancy to encourage use.

Rowe said a consultant suggested more than half of the T’s garages and parking lots might see cuts in parking rates under the proposal. He said that doesn’t mean the remaining half of garages and lots would see increases, but T officials indicated those garages that fill up on a daily basis, including Alewife, Braintree, and Quincy Adams, are likely to see increases.

T officials are also considering a number of other changes, including charging different rates on weekends and during special events. Officials are also considering hourly and overnight rates, and special charges to reserve parking spots in advance.

The last time the T raised parking rates was in 2008, and it raised prices $1 across the board. Currently, most commuter rail lots charge $4 a day, while transit line garages charge between $5 and $7 a day. About 50 percent of commuter rail riders and 10 percent of rapid transit passengers start their trips at a T parking facility.

The control board, as part of its budget deliberations, indicated it didn’t want an across-the-board parking increase this year. But the board wants overall parking revenues to increase by $7 million in fiscal 2019, which begins July 1. Parking revenues this fiscal year are expected to reach nearly $51 million. Rowe said he would unveil a specific proposal on parking rates in two weeks.

When asked whether his parking plan represented a form of congestion pricing, Rowe said he rejected the premise of the question. “I think that’s a really different concept overall,” he said.

Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said using pricing to influence parking behavior is a form of congestion pricing, but she suggested congestion pricing is much more complicated than what the T is talking about with parking. Joseph Aiello, the chairman of the control board, seemed to agree. “They don’t completely correlate, but there’s some similarities,” he said.

Chris Dempsey, the director of Transportation for Massachusetts, which is advocating for congestion pricing on the Massachusetts Turnpike, said the T seems to be following a congestion pricing approach with its parking facilities. He said the T’s parking infrastructure is a “poorly managed and poorly utilized asset,” and charging more when demand is high and less when demand is low makes sense.

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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.

“Doing a smarter job of allocating that limited space would be a benefit for the people that need to park there,” he said.

Unlike T officials, who said they were worried about confusing their customers with variable pricing rates, Dempsey said most consumers are very familiar with the way businesses use pricing to incentivize behavior. He cited as examples lower-priced movie matinees and early bird dinner specials.