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.