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.