Boston Is Finally Installing Smart Parking Meters

Thanks be to god.



At last! Mayor Marty Walsh has announced, among other new transportation developments, that the city will spend $6 million to replace all its parking meters with “smart” units, which means all of Boston’s parking meters will take credit cards and eventually phone app payments.

Sure, this definitely isn’t the most urgent issue facing Boston. It’s an extension of convenience.

That said, the fact that these units make payment easier is just the first of many exciting possibilities made possible with the installation, Walsh noted. The new units, paid for with money collected from existing meters, will remain in constant communication with Boston’s Transportation Department. That means, down the line, the city could contract with app developers to create programs that let smartphone users know where to find free spaces. A private company attempted to set up a secondary market for just such an innovation last year, but the city was less than enthusiastic about letting a tech company effectively raise the price of on-street parking in Boston and keep the added revenue. Now, Boston sisters are doing it for themselves.

Better yet, smart meters allow for the possibility of dynamic meter pricing, similar to a system set up in other cities like San Francisco. We’ve long advocated for its wider use around town. It’s no secret that Boston’s on-street parking is priced way below the market rate. The Prudential Center garage will charge you $30 to park for two hours. This discrepancy means that the city’s drivers spend a lot of time circling the block, waiting for a cheap space to free up, creating traffic. In popular areas, this could be somewhat resolved by raising the price of parking meters to meet demand without permanently raising prices citywide. In areas with less demand, parking could remain cheap. Brookline already does this with its meters near Fenway around Red Sox game time.

So in sum: you no longer have to dig through the cracks of your car seat for quarters in order to park on the streets of Boston. You can use a card, if you’re lucky enough to find an open meter. And someday, dynamic pricing and apps that point you toward vacancies might actually mean you stand a chance of finding a meter.