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To Curb Congestion, Walsh Seeks Variable Pricing For Some City Parking Meters

The city is updating all of its parking meters to work with the ParkBoston cellphone app.  (Jp Gary via Flickr)
The city is updating all of its parking meters to work with the ParkBoston cellphone app. (Jp Gary via Flickr)

You may have to pay a lot more to park in some parts of Boston in the future, according to Mayor Marty Walsh.

Speaking at a Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce breakfast Thursday, he said the city is looking to change parking meter rates based on demand — also known as dynamic pricing. Under the system, rates rise when most meters are taken, and then go down when more meters are free.

"At $1.25 an hour, our meters are 3 to 5 times cheaper than other cities’," Walsh said in prepared remarks. "In busy areas, they increase congestion by creating an incentive to circle the block. So we’re going to study a plan that could give select parking meters flexible rates, based on demand."

Speculation about dynamic pricing coming to Boston began in March, when Walsh announced the city would replace all 8,000 parking meters with so-called smart meters. Smart meters are electronic and take credit card and mobile payments, in addition to coins. Their technology would allow the city to automatically shift prices. They could also potentially provide the city with data on occupancy and turnover of parking spots.

On Wednesday, Walsh said the city would create a pricing plan modeled after San Francisco, which has dynamically priced its meters since 2011 and also regularly rolls out meter rate adjustments.

As a result, Walsh said San Francisco has reduced the time drivers spend searching for parking by 43 percent.

But dynamic pricing also means San Francisco sometimes charges $5 an hour or higher to park at meters.

In Boston, Walsh said the pricing shifts would be "reasonable" and the city would look to see how it can reinvest the revenue in the areas where dynamic pricing is implemented.

He said the pricing changes are necessary to help curb traffic congestion.

"The bottom line is: $1.25 an hour isn’t working in our busiest areas," Walsh said. "I like offering a good deal, but not at the price of stress and gridlock on our streets. It’s not helping anyone. And we should be looking at any plan that can help us change that."

Speaking to reporters after the breakfast, Walsh said the parking price increases would likely come to Fenway, Back Bay and downtown.

"Around Fenway Park, your meter is $1.25 an hour and your parking lots are making $50 for a game," Walsh said. "So we’re going to be exploring that option."

How much parking meter prices might fluctuate in Boston is unclear. Walsh said the pricing changes won't "be to the point where people will be discouraged from parking." He said the city is still building its plan.

There is also no clear timeframe for when the pricing changes will be implemented. Walsh said the city first has to make all its parking meters uniform with the new smart meters that are being rolled out.

In addition to dynamic pricing, Walsh is also looking to fight congestion by utilizing the city's data-sharing partnership with Waze — the Google-owned traffic app. The app allows users to check real-time traffic conditions, and send in reports of various road and traffic conditions they spot. Walsh said the city will use Waze data to crack down on drivers who double-park downtown as well as those who block busy intersections — part of the city's "Do Not Block The Box" campaign. To do this the city is hiring additional parking enforcement officers, Walsh said.

WBUR's Curt Nickisch contributed reporting.

Here's video of the mayor's remarks:

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Zeninjor Enwemeka Twitter Reporter
Zeninjor Enwemeka is a reporter who covers business, tech and culture as part of WBUR's Bostonomix team, which focuses on the innovation economy.

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