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Even With Tunnel Traffic and Dirt-Cheap Prices, the T’s North Shore Parking Garages Are Mostly Empty This Summer

A half-empty parking lot next to several mid-rise apartment buildings, one of which (on the left edge of the photo) is still under construction. In the distance is a large parking garage with the MBTA logo on top. Some railroad tracks – the MBTA Blue Line – are visible through a chain-link fence at left, between the apartments and the parking lot.

Dirt cheap, barely used: the MBTA’s Wonderland parking lot on the evening of Wednesday August 2.

For this summer's closure of the Sumner Tunnel under Boston Harbor, MassDOT and the T have been imploring car owners to "ditch the drive" into downtown Boston by offering deep discounts on daily parking rates and train fares at North Shore MBTA stations.

People who own cars can now rent 325 square feet of real estate next to several Blue Line and Newburyport-Rockport Line stations for just $2 a day.

If you don't have a car, a similar amount of square footage in a North Shore apartment will cost you at least $25 a day – and good luck finding a place that's steps away from a T station.

And yet, drivers are largely uninterested in taking advantage of what might be Boston's best real estate bargain.

The MBTA has been tweeting daily updates for the morning rush hour during this summer's tunnel closure, including details on how much parking is available at its Blue Line and commuter rail stations.

Those updates indicate that people in cars are driving past thousands of empty, publicly-subsidized parking spaces every morning, avoiding the T in order to pile themselves into brutal traffic jams on Route 1 in Chelsea and in the Ted Williams Tunnel:

MBTA park-and-ride lot utilization during Sumner Tunnel closure

Source: MBTA on Twitter

Date/TimeOrient Hts.Beach-
July 25
9:00 AM65%62%24%34%37%
10:00 AM69%65%31%42%43%
July 26
9:00 AM62%61%32%37%41%
10:00 AM70%64%36%43%46%
July 27
9:00 AM59%60%27%36%41%
10:00 AM57%63%33%40%45%
July 28
9:00 AM50%43%28%22%34%
10:00 AM52%46%34%24%43%
July 31
9:00 AM62%51%28%29%37%
10:00 AM69%54%31%35%40%

The MBTA's Wonderland lot in Revere, which has a capacity for over 1,400 cars and takes up over 5 acres of space a stone's throw from the beach, has rarely been more than one-third full during the past two weeks.

In its Beverly garage, the MBTA has been giving away parking for free this summer. Yet that garage has never been more than 50 percent full in the past two weeks.

Collectively, these North Shore lots and garages in the MBTA's daily reports have had about 2,000 vacant parking spaces available by the end of the morning rush hour, with a total utilization rate that's consistently less than 50 percent.

The data beg the question: if the T's parking lots are mostly empty at a time of unusually high highway congestion, in spite of deeply discounted fares and parking rates, why are we still subsidizing them?

An aerial view of an oceanfront neighborhood dominated by large surface parking lots and a handful of mid-rise apartment buildings lining the beach in the upper left corner of the image.
An aerial view of the MBTA's 6-acre parking complex around Wonderland Station in Revere. The garage can park over 1,400 cars, and the adjacent surface lot has another 476 spaces. Courtesy of Google Maps.

The three Blue Line park-and-ride lots – at Wonderland, Beachmont, and Orient Heights – take up over 11 acres of prime real estate, within walking distance of rapid transit and beaches.

According to the MBTA's data, these lots have averaged fewer than 1,000 parked cars at 10 a.m. during the past two weeks.

By comparison, the Blue Line has been serving about 46,000 daily trips since the tunnel closure began.

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