Campus & Community

Parking policies change:

4 min read

Construction, other factors lead to adjustments in fees, availability

In the song, they “paved paradise, put up a parking lot.”

At Harvard, the next few years will reverse that process, as the University reclaims Harvard’s surface parking lots for much-needed academic building such as laboratories, faculty offices, housing, and green space. While such construction is certainly crucial to Harvard’s academic mission, it bumps into another priority amenity for many faculty and staff: convenient, close-in parking.

To maintain the availability of parking in Cambridge and Allston, Harvard will dig deep, relocating more than a thousand spaces in underground garages in the next several years. By this summer, the garage beneath the new residential building at One Western Ave. will offer 625 spots; a new 730-space garage in the North Yard is scheduled for completion in December 2004.

The cost of replacing surface parking spots with subterranean ones is an eye-popping $50,000 per space, 64 percent of which will be subsidized by the University. Parking permit holders, however, will fund the remaining costs through future increases in parking rates beginning with fiscal year 2004.

“It’s a lot more costly for us to build and operate a parking structure than a surface parking lot,” says John Nolan, director of Transportation Services, citing construction, maintenance, personnel, and lighting as boosting the cost of running a garage. In addition, Transportation Services is committed to preserving the University’s close-in parking, which internal research told the department is a priority for the faculty and staff who use it.

The University’s commitment to subsidizing nearly two-thirds of the increased parking costs keeps the price tag for parking at Harvard “considerably under commercial rates,” says Nolan. Compared with other universities in the Boston area and in other major cities, Harvard’s rates for on-site parking are favorable.

Nolan and Jim Sarafin, manager of parking services, also point out that by taking advantage of payroll deduction, parking permit holders can further reduce real costs of parking with pretax savings of up to 40%. Sarafin noted that only one-third of Harvard’s faculty and staff currently hold parking permits.

In addition, when the fees rise in September 2003, relatively small changes in permit types will further distinguish between parking in open lots and garages and reserved (formerly “assigned”) and unreserved (formerly “pooled”) permits. Using pre-tax payroll deduction, parking permit holders will pay between $1.45 and $2.88 per day.

(For a complete list of new parking rates, see the chart below or visit

You can get here from there …

With Cambridge and Boston city zoning effectively capping the number of parking spaces Harvard can create, Transportation Services is committed to helping University commuters explore ways to leave their cars at home. Its Commuter Choice program offers driving alternatives like discounted MBTA passes, information about carpooling, vanpooling, and biking, and discounted Zipcar memberships.

“We’ve tried to create choices which will encourage people to try alternative transportation,” says Nolan.

In fall 2003, T passes – already discounted 40 percent by the University – will get even cheaper, when employees can pay for them from pre-tax dollars with payroll deduction. Harvard affiliates can now join Zipcar, the regional cars-by-the-hour service that suits people who only need cars for occasional trips or errands, for just $20 with no deposit. Carpoolers get reduced-rate preferential parking on campus, and Harvard’s first vanpool started recently, shuttling thrifty commuters from southern New Hampshire to Cambridge, where their van receives free preferential parking.

Even bicyclists will reap benefits from changes in parking, as new garages will include associated covered bike racks located adjacent to these facilities, ultimately adding 70 covered spots for bicycles.

“Transportation Services has implemented a considerable number of commuting alternatives over the last several years for our faculty and staff and will continue to create more choices,” says Nolan. “Parking is just one of those options.”

While a variety of factors, including costs of construction and shifts in the economy, make future parking rates unpredictable, rates are directly related to the cost of construction and operating parking services. With additional capital development and restoration planned for the years ahead, the costs to operate the parking operation will continue to increase.

“Parking rates will be reviewed each year in consideration of all these factors,” says Nolan.