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The silver lining of paying more to park

Posted by Alan Wirzbicki  January 6, 2011 05:45 PM

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The Globe's Travis Andersen reports today that Boston is raising its parking meter rates for the first time since the 1980s, from $1 to $1.25 an hour. Transportation Commissioner Thomas J. Tinlin said there was no single reason for the increase now, but that the extra $3 million in revenue generated by the fees "puts books in classrooms and police on the street."

With municipal budgets across the country getting squeezed, Boston isn't the only city upping the price of parking: New York City plans to raise meter rates south of 86th Street in Manhattan from $2.50 to $3 an hour, and in 2009, Washington, DC, doubled hourly rates at some of its meters from $1 to $2.

Though many motorists aren't happy with Boston's fee hike, raising meter rates theoretically promise a silver lining for drivers. Finding a space in Boston is notoriously tough, and Donald Shoup, the author of The High Cost of Free Parking, has argued that if drivers can't reliably find an empty parking space, it's a sign that parking is too cheap. Higher rates mean fewer people will want to park at metered spaces, meaning more empty spaces.

Many proponents of urban density also favor raising the cost of public parking as a matter of principle, since metered parking rates rarely reflect the true cost of providing them. According to Shroup, parking spots can be worth tens of thousands of dollars in real estate alone. Allowing drivers to park for bargain rates amounts to a taxpayer subsidy for cars, even as many cities are trying to promote public transit, walking, and bicycling. Get rid of the car subsidy by charging the real price of parking, the theory goes, and more people would take public transportation instead — or simply live closer to downtown.

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ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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