Councilor wants meters fed till 2 a.m.

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Richard Thompson
Globe Correspondent / June 22, 2008

More than five years have passed since the required time for feeding thousands of parking meters east of Massachusetts Avenue was extended from 6 to 8 p.m., matching the schedule for meters in the Back Bay business district and the downtown financial district.

Now, City Councilor Sal LaMattina wants to add another six hours, meaning that meters would have to be fed all the way to 2 a.m., adding about $2 million to the estimated $10 million of revenue generated annually by the city's nearly 6,300 meters.

"We need to start looking at ways to bring in revenue to the city, and that's one easy solution," said LaMattina, who represents East Boston, Charlestown, and the North End.

Prospects for LaMattina's idea, which he unveiled late last month, are unclear. And though it would be an added burden on customers of late-night eateries and clubs, one local business group thinks it could help customers by freeing up parking spaces at night.

Before joining the council in 2006, LaMattina spent seven years as director of operations at the Transportation Department. He said last week that much of the city's parking meter technology dates back more than two decades, and that regular repairs have been costing the city money.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino hopes to change some of that with his proposed city budget, which would allocate $3.9 million more, a 14 percent increase, for the department.

The money would be used for improved street cleaning, additional parking enforcement officers, and an overhaul of city parking meters.

Those meters would be rewired, damaged or missing meters would be replaced, and the city would add high-tech meters along streets that are now marked for two-hour parking.

In 2006, city officials replaced 163 electronic, single-space meters along a four-block span of Newbury Street with 23 multi-space, solar-powered meters that can accept coins, credit cards, and debit cards. The blue kiosks, located below blue metal "Pay Meter Here" signs, can increase revenue by up to 50 percent because they're more reliable than the old meters and eliminate piggybacking of motorists who benefit from unused time on a vacant space, according to the manufacturer.

More than $62 million in parking fines was collected by city officials in the fiscal year ended June 2007, and that figure is expected to reach about $77 million in the coming year, due to proposed increases in several public safety- and traffic-related fines, additional parking officers on patrol, and the proposed expansion of metered spaces, according to the proposed budget, which is pending at the City Council.

The $77 million estimate doesn't include the 2 a.m. proposal, which probably won't be approved by the council unless it first wins the support of the mayor and Transportation Department.

LaMattina said he has offered his proposal to Menino, who hasn't expressed an opinion on the idea. A reporter's phone calls to the mayor's office and Transportation Department were not returned last week.

According to LaMattina, such cities as Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Los Angeles have some 24-hour parking meters, and he "doesn't see why people would be opposed to extending the hours of operation" locally.

Still, the proposal drew a mixed reaction from two neighborhood business associations.

Tom Brennan, vice president of the Newbury Street League, is concerned that the proposal could hurt the late-night dinner crowd, which may soon have to worry about feeding a parking meter as well as an appetite.

"Enough is enough," Brennan said. "It used to be that the meters turned off at 6 o'clock; now it's 8 o'clock. But to go until 2 a.m. is just ridiculous."

Meg Mainzer-Cohen, president of the Back Bay Association, sees it differently.

She believes that extending meter hours to 2 a.m. would benefit businesses because it would allow for more turnover in parking spots at a time of the day when they traditionally have been scarce. "Right now, when the meter goes off, it's like residential parking from that moment until the next morning," she said.

The installation of new meters will make the change easier, she said.

"More cars can park on the street and more people who don't carry a pocket full of quarters can use a meter," she said. "They can make a decision about being in Back Bay that's not dependent on coins jangling around in their pockets."

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