Charles Hotel garage in Cambridge offers a discount for Smart Cars and other half-size vehicles.

Credit: Robin Washington

Compact And Driverless Cars May Ease Parking

December 13, 2016

Pull into a parking garage in Boston or Cambridge and you’re likely to react like Aaron and Miraj Budak did.

“Oh, man!” said Aaron Budak, responding to the $38 charge for a couple of hours at the Government Center garage.

“Whoo! Geez,” concurred Miraj Budak.

The Boston couple has just experienced classic supply and demand: Too few places to park too many cars. But if spaces were reconfigured to handle more cars, could prices go down?

“We had a 450 car garage," said John Scmid,  He’s the owner of ProPark, which runs the Charles Hotel garage near Harvard Square.

"We redesigned the garage to fit smaller cars. We actually got an extra 50 spaces or so. Our net income went up about 15 percent by giving away free parking. You get the first hour for free if you’re a small car. Up to 144 inches long. A Smart Car, even a really small Porsche would qualify.”

After the first hour, small cars get a discount until you get to the maximum $40 day rate. Large cars like Suburbans and Explorers cost more. If it’s an electric vehicle, they’ll throw in a free charge.  Free charging stations are becoming more common.  Schmid has 1,000 around the country and calls them Juice Bars. 

Robert Masters lives nearby. He parks — and charges up — his bright yellow electric Smart Car at the hotel garage.

“I call it half a car,” said Masters.  “If I ever get a ticket, I would [hope I] get half price on the ticket.“

Smart Cars are much more compact than regular cars, allowing them to save space in parking garages.
Photo Credit: Robin Washington

If you don’t own half a car and you’re wondering if your car is small enough to qualify for the free or reduced parking, the Charles Hotel lot will measure it for you.

“This right here is called Nanomax.  It’s a sensor that actually measures the car,” said Schmid.  “There’s three categories. It codes the ticket. If it’s a Mini that takes up very little space or a Suburban that takes up more real estate.  Really, parking is a real estate business. The more space you take the more you should pay."

Schmid has a patent on the measuring device, but size isn't the only way to create more parking in limited spaces.  Some high-end cars, including semi-autonomous models from BMW, Tesla and Mercedes, have self-parking features that could free up parking space.  Drivers and passengers would get out of their car before it pulls into a perpendicular or diagonal space, meaning the doors wouldn’t have to be opened once it parks. 

“We’re looking at 30 percent,” said Roamy Valera of SP Plus Parking, which runs the Government Center garage and hundreds of others across the country. He’s calculating the space that can be saved in parking lots if you don’t have to open car doors.

“These cars can be stacked,” he said of the idea.  “This is not too far away.  This is technology that’s available already.”

Boston Transportation Commissioner Gina Fiandaca said the city would consider that idea, as well as offering cheaper parking for smaller cars at the 8,000 metered spaces on city streets.

“That certainly is an innovative concept and as we look toward this technology and what autonomous mobility can provide, we look at how we can free up roadways and what space that potentially frees up on the curbside,” said Findaca.

So, would Bostonians buy a self-parking car or Smart Car just to get a discount on parking?  Government Center garage patron Adrian Jaho would.

“Yes.  I’m driving a Honda Accord.  It’s not a Smart Car,” he said.  “I think it’s very important that people who have Smart Cars will have a privilege so that other people will go to Smart Car so the environment will be protected and there will be incentive.”

But Aaron and Miraj Budak — the couple who paid the $38 to park their Jeep at Government Center — said for them, getting a teeny tiny car isn’t actually all that smart. 

“I don’t think so,”  said Miraj Budak.  “We live in Boston and it snows.  You’re going to want something that climbs on the snow banks when they don’t plow in the winter.”

In other words, your Mini Cooper could get plowed away.

“Exactly,” she replied. “They got buried two years ago.”

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