Should Boston Mind That It’s One of the ‘Worst Cities for Parking’?

A study considers the cost of parking to rank Boston against other cities, but the price is high for a reason.

Perhaps you saw the study from NerdWallet that ranked Boston the fifth worst city for parking, and perhaps you felt that finally, someone out there understood the specific kind of exquisite pain that can only come from looking for a spot in this town. But let’s look closer at why this particular headline probably won’t serve as a wakeup call. 

The study measured the “Worst Cities for Parking” based on two metrics: car thefts and price of parking. Notably absent from consideration is how difficult it is to find a space. The study makes no mention of our reputation for coming to blows over wintertime parking spaces. But availability is a really big part of why it sucks to park in Boston, or any other dense city! And the factor they did consider—price—is often designed to manipulate it.

First of all, car thefts are inarguably bad, and we should prevent them as best we can. The price of parking, on the other hand, is less cut and dry. It’s a function of supply and demand, and though it stinks to pay a lot for parking, it probably stinks more to pay $0 for a space that doesn’t exist. Boston is, after all, a city so small we literally had to manufacture more of it by filling in the ocean. And still, there’s just not that much room for cars. Some might argue (yes, in the pages of this magazine) that the price of parking in Boston is too low. (Okay, not those private Back Bay spaces that get auctioned off for a the GDP of a small island nation. But the price of municipal parking.) 

City politicians won’t crow about it, but it’s why you sometimes see them taking measures to raise the price of parking. It helps congestion issues. It costs $13 dollars just to drive into Manhattan, let alone to park there. That’s by design. In San Francisco, city authorities implemented a dynamic pricing system that changes the cost of electronic meter parking based on the current availability of spaces. If no one wants to park, the rate drops. If everyone does, it’s a more valuable space, and you’ll have to pay accordingly. Nerd Wallet actually acknowledges this system while it ranks San Francisco the third worst city for parking, two spaces ahead of us. In the eyes of some, San Fran has taken a more innovative approach to the fact that there just isn’t enough room for everyone’s cars.

Just consider this mesmerizing GIF that went viral in nerdy circles a few months ago, and you’ll see the dreams that city planners have for the decongesting power of public transit.

transit gif

Cities that invest in biking infrastructure and public transit, as Boston has, often incur the ire of those who note that we’re not all Manhattan. Many people just simply have to drive, either because they live too far away or their destination isn’t accessible or the weather isn’t good for year-round biking. No doubt, you can’t deprioritize parking without similarly investing in functional public transit. But the point is that Boston might want to be perceived as a terrible city for parking. If it encourages people to consider other options, it’ll declutter the roads and actually improve the experience for those who must or insist on having their car.