Should parking revenue be used to improve the area it is collected in? City Council to explore options.

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Parking benefit districts, which ensure money from meters goes directly toward local projects, have been implemented elsewhere in Massachusetts.

Parking meters in downtown Boston. Pat Greenhouse/Boston Globe

The Boston City Council is weighing the creation of parking benefit districts, which would invest the revenue from parking meters into the improvement of the area where those meters are located. 

The idea was proposed by Councilor Ricardo Arroyo in a hearing request during last week’s council meeting. It was supported by a large number of councilors and was referred to the Committee on City Services and Innovation Technology. A hearing will be scheduled where councilors can learn more about the concept from officials and experts. 

Arroyo introduced the idea to create a pilot parking benefit district in Roslindale Village that can then be implemented in other areas of Boston. The city is already working on a plan to introduce meters there, and Arroyo said that this is a prime opportunity to reinvest in the community and try out a new concept. 

“Even though the state allows for parking benefit districts, for whatever reason in the city of Boston we don’t have them,” Arroyo said. “Folks in the neighborhoods who put more money into these meters should see that money directly benefit the areas in which they are placed.” 

The concept of parking benefit districts has already been tested in cities and towns across the country, including in Massachusetts. In Brookline Village, for example, funds from the district are used for parking meter maintenance, enhanced winter lighting, flowers and greenery, public art, and improvements for pedestrians and cyclists, according to the Federal Highway Administration. Arlington and Reading also have set up parking benefit districts of their own. 

Councilor Liz Breadon, who represents Allston-Brighton, said that she and others in her district have been thinking about implementing parking benefit districts there for “quite some time” already. Councilor Gabriela Coletta said she has often heard from constituents in Charlestown, East Boston, and the North End about the need for new parking solutions in those densely populated neighborhoods. 

Normally, revenue from parking meters or pay stations automatically reverts into a municipality’s general fund, according to the Metropolitan Area Planning Council. But parking benefit districts have been proven to decrease traffic congestion, fund streetscape improvements, and increase property and sales tax revenue. 

The concept, however, works best in areas of high parking demand. The districts work by “pricing parking at the ‘market-rate,’ or the price that will bring peak occupancy down to the optimal 85%,” according to the nonprofit Parking Reform Network. Parking benefit districts are normally recommended for areas with peak occupancy rates above 85%. A 100% occupancy rate basically means that every spot is filled, and 85% occupancy normally leaves one or two spots open per block. 

The districts can be managed by a body designated by the municipality in which they are created. This can include community planning groups, city-owned nonprofits, business improvement districts, or main streets organizations.