Operational lessons learned from the City of Boston’s performance parking pilot.
The City of Boston conducted a performance parking pilot in 2017 with the goal of improving the parking experience, lowering congestion, increasing road safety, and generally learning how to implement a performance parking program.
The objective of the price changes was to encourage other modes of transportation as well as encourage parking on blocks that were consistently underutilized, freeing up 1 to 2 spaces on block faces consistently at capacity. The desired effect was limiting the added Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) caused by vehicles circling for available parking and decreasing double parking caused by ride hailing and delivery services. Parking occupancy was measured using sensor technology mounted to parking meters and extracting data from Boston’s parking payment vendors.
The pilot was executed in two downtown neighborhoods, Seaport, with block-by-block dynamic prices, and Back Bay, managed as a zone. Boston’s approach in the Seaport neighborhood was to introduce dynamic pricing by block face (the portion of a street between two other streets), increasing or decreasing prices by 50 cent increments, until demand left 1 to 2 spaces per block available throughout the day. Prices were capped at $4 an hour and the lowest fee was $1 an hour. The Seaport neighborhood prices were adjusted every 2 months between January 2017 and December 2017. The Back Bay neighborhood meters were changed uniformly as a zone from $1.25 to $3.75 and remained that price during the pilot.
The report found that performance parking is an effective tool to increase parking availability, lower congestion, and improve road safety. However, there were operational challenges such as parking sensor reliability, multiple parking vendor platforms, and lack of consensus on number of parking spaces per block.
The report described the following operational lessons learned:
Consider upgrading or relying on data collection techniques other than a sensor at every meter. The City used sensors mounted on parking meters as one method to count occupancy. However, the City found many problems with the data’s accuracy and it took significant staff time to calibrate the equipment and confirm the data’s accuracy. To scale the performance parking pilot, the City would need to rely on data collection techniques other than a sensor at every meter.
Consider operational challenges to frequently changing meter prices. The City of Boston uses three different vendors for its parking payments. Boston Transportation Department staff found it difficult to coordinate the price changes with the different technology systems that vendors use. The Boston Transportation Department had to send out staff to manually check the meters to confirm the new prices were shown.
Conduct a census of parking meter spaces prior to implementing a performance parking pilot. The City does not currently demarcate individual parking spaces at locations with multispace meters, and therefore does not know the exact number of vehicles that can fit onto a block at these locations. As a result, staff spent significant time counting the number of parking spaces on each block in these areas, information needed to compute occupancy in the pilot areas.
The report describes considerations for scaling to other neighborhoods:
- Staff capacity. For every 3-5 performance parking zones created, a dedicated full-time project manager and a part-time data analyst would be needed.
- Street closures and occupancy permits. An integrated system needs to be developed to automatically alert the performance parking team of changes in the number of available spaces due to street closures, occupancy permits, new Hubway stations, or changes in parking regulations.
- Resident and business owner engagement. It is critical that the community is engaged in the process, has the opportunity to ask questions on the methodology behind the program, and receives clear feedback on progress.
- Back-end technology integration. Scaling to other neighborhoods would mean resolving the back-end technology issues for the new sites. These include: extracting the needed data to analyze the results of the pilots from the different back-end systems of the City’s three parking payment vendors as well as publishing the new meter prices and times with the vendors.