As many of you know, I’ve long been a proponent of market-pricing currently underpriced public assets. As one example, the demand for prime parking spots in Newton Centre (and other villages) indicates that the meter fees are too damn low. Raise the rates to the point where there is about 85% occupancy and all sorts of good things flow: higher turnover, less congestion, &c.

But, the flip side is also true. Public assets can be priced too high, which is what we’re seeing at the MBTA lots in West Newton and Auburndale now that the MBTA has imposed a $4 fee. The occupancy rates are ridiculously low. As a result, the T isn’t making any money. And, empty parking lots serve no useful function.

The key, though, is that there is nothing inherently wrong about a $4 rate for parking convenient to the commuter rail in areas where prime parking is not abundant. (One only slightly misguided observer thought $10 per day might be right in West Newton.) There is a market for parking in West Newton and Auburndale. The problem for the MBTA is that in both places, there is much cheaper parking than $4 that is still within reasonable walking distance of the stops (one stretches to call them stations). To guide commuters back to the pay lots, the answer isn’t to lower the rate on the lots. Instead, the city needs to better manage the market for parking, with higher rates — at least for long-term parking — and restrictions on long-term parking where pay parking just doesn’t make sense.

On a separate note, the fact that the Washington St. lot in West Newton is owned by the T shouldn’t restrict its use to long-term parking. There is plenty of short-term parking demand there and properly priced meters would generate much more than $4 per day per space.

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