People Go to Insane Lengths to Avoid Boston’s Parking Headaches

One business woman even finagled a private valet parking space outside her office. Let’s fix the system.

Photo Credit: e_chaya on Flickr

Photo Credit: e_chaya on Flickr

Today in Boston, the combination of high garage prices and low meter prices makes it either very expensive or very, very fortuitous to get a parking space near one’s destination. This leads people to take measures ranging from the mundane—circle a block for an hour to find an open metered space—to the nefarious—lobby the city to move a rare valet parking space to a spot just in front of your office building, where no one will compete with you for the space, and the city’s enforcement won’t notice you’ve been stationed for hours without a ticket.

This was the scheme undertaken by Lisa Saunders. Boston Globe reporter Sean P. Murphy has a great story about how the businesswoman, a member of the family that owned the Park Plaza Hotel for decades, used her clout to avoid the parking headaches that the rest of us must endure. Saunders hired consultant Gregg Donovan, a South Boston developer with ties to the Mayor’s office, to petition city officials to relocate an unused valet parking space from a nearby closed restaurant to curb outside her office at 20 Park Plaza, Murphy reports. Whereas other valet spaces are located in front of high-turnover businesses, like hotels, Saunders’s was outside an office building adjacent to a hotel. That’s allowed her to park in the otherwise unused space all day without attracting the attention of city parking enforcement officers. She appears to pay no fee, Murphy reports, because the space is in the name of the Park Plaza Hotel.

That little scheme has come to an end after the reporter started asking the city some questions and they realized what was going on. Saunders will now exchange her luxe parking privilege for some good old public ridicule. The Globe strikes the right tone by noting that the scheme is “not exactly the crimes of Whitey Bulger,” but, hey, parking issues are important, too. We live in a city where the parking system offers incentives that create some crazy outcomes, whether it’s auctioning off-street parking spaces for $560,000 or gaming the system to create a personalized valet parking spot for yourself.

There are no solutions that will give all drivers as easy a time parking as Saunders has had. But in a November 2012 Boston article urging higher on-street parking prices, Patrick Doyle argued for at least a few fixes. San Francisco has implemented one of them: dynamic meter pricing that changes based on time-of-day and spot availability. Doyle envisions how this would work in Boston:

The goal would be to always have one or two free spaces on any given block. Popular streets, like Newbury and Boylston, might charge as much as $4.50 an hour during the day, while quieter ones might charge as little as 50 cents an hour during off-peak times. Those who are unwilling to pay higher rates could choose to park in lower-demand spots farther from their destination.

Others, like Harvard’s Ed Glaeser, have argued persuasively for jacking up the cost of parking, too. Sure it’d make life for drivers more expensive. But at least people could count on finding a space more regularly. And it’d probably be less expensive than hiring a well-connected developer to game the system for you. Certainly it wouldn’t expose you to as much ridicule.

  • Tony

    I tip my hat to Lisa Saunders for coming up with such a creative solution. It is strange that Ms Saunders is subject to ridicule but the machinations of SoS John Kerry on the Beacon Hill parking spaces are not.

  • http://www.simplicity-interrupted.com/ Simplicity Interrupted

    Making street parking a pricey option may open up some spots on the street, but it would eliminate the option of spending time in the city for many families and lower-income individuals. Heading to a museum or the library would be out of reach for these groups, all so that those that can afford the higher priced parking do not have to circle the block. I disagree that this would be a positive step for Boston.

    • MattyCiii

      San Francisco’s experiment in market pricing has resulted in an actual DECREASE in the average price for parking (http://sf.streetsblog.org/2013/08/07/shoup-sfpark-yields-promising-results-lessons-for-demand-based-pricing/).

      SFPark shows that pricing can make parking available without sky high prices.

      But your premise is flawed from the get-go. You’re saying a poor person will pay $9,500 a year to own a car (as AAA has calculated), but not $5 to park in town? Ridiculous!

      • http://www.simplicity-interrupted.com/ Simplicity Interrupted

        Matty, I don’t recall saying anything about “a poor person”. I said lower-income. Boston thrives during the weekends on the visits from families and individuals that live on the outskirts of the city. Visiting the city can get really pricey – meals, tickets, etc. add up. I absolutely believe that those who drive into the city for a several hour visit would pay $5 or even $10 for parking, but not per hour. Let the garages keep the $35-$50 price tag, and leave street parking as a viable option for everyone else.

        • Luis Mejias

          The solution to low incomes is to raise incomes, not fix prices artificially low.

    • http://www.longlivehw.com Josh/HW

      They should take the Commuter Rail into town and use the T.

      • http://www.simplicity-interrupted.com/ Simplicity Interrupted

        Commuter rail starts at $5 a person each way & can be as much as $15. Even at its lowest price point, a round trip would cost $40 for a family of four (over age 12) – may as well drive in & park in a garage.

        Raising the street parking costs may be something that the city should be exploring, but I just think that we need to keep all those effected in mind. I would hate for the city to become something that only those with expendable cash can enjoy.

  • billy boy

    it’s who you know and who you are–typical of Boston–

  • http://www.fibrowitch.net Jan Dumas

    Boston was built before cars. If people want to get down town that is what the T is for. We need fewer parking spaces and way fewer cars. Newbury street should become an urban mall with no traffic allowed at all.

    • Luis Mejias

      I don’t think Newbury should be car-free, but it should be reduced to one lane of traffic and one lane of parking. And trucks/deliveries should be forced to use the alleys or deliver before 9am and ticketed for double parking.

  • MWF76

    I have a solution, Expand the T and provide MBTA services 24/7 like a regular large city. not impossible bus routes that run on this particular day for this particular amount of time after 1am but really 24/7. I’m so sick of racing to catch the subway and I am a person who works in public health but cannot afford to live in the community I serve because Boston is so gentrified and rediculous.The only middle/lower class People allowed to
    live near my work are on section 8, without legal residency, on permanant disability and so on but I have been banished to Dorchester and forced to live with roomates and the people of Dorchester are also now selling out to the top 1% and soon I’ll be living way down in Braintree or up in Revere SO Expand the T and run it 24 hours for us poor folk who cant afford the city anymore.

    • http://www.longlivehw.com Josh/HW

      Riding a bike might solve those issues. I know it helped me when I couldn’t use the T.

  • http://www.proparksf.com/ ProPark SF

    That’s allowed her to park in the otherwise unused space all day without
    attracting the attention of city parking enforcement officers.