BEVERLY — Just before 8 a.m. on Thursday, signs at the entrances of the MBTA parking garage in Beverly flashed the bad news to out-of-luck commuters: "FULL."
The message has become a familiar one to regular patrons of the 500-space garage. Since the MBTA lowered the cost of parking there last year from $5 to $2 per day, the Beverly facility has gone from one of the least utilized in the agency's system to one of the most.
According to an MBTA Twitter account that tracks parking vacancies at its properties, the Beverly garage has been full by around 8 a.m. every weekday, except for Fridays, for the last month.
While commuters are happy about the lower cost, some are questioning the overall strategy that has led to the garage maxing out. The price drop kicked in the same month that the new Holmes Beverly apartment building opened in front of the garage. Holmes Beverly had been leasing 50 spaces in the garage since 2016 for construction workers to use, but leased an additional 20 spaces when the building opened, for a total of 70 reserved spots for residents.
And those moves came in the wake of the city installing parking meters on streets around the train depot to encourage people to use the garage. The result has been an increase in average use from 50% to 97%, the second-most among the MBTA's eight garages, according to the agency.
The increasing competition for spaces had led to a "growing frustration" among commuters, said Jon Hurst, a Beverly resident who has been taking the train to Boston for 30 years.
"It used to be that you could always be assured of getting a parking space in there," he said. "That's no longer the case."
The Beverly garage opened in 2014 at a cost of $34 million. Until last year, it was only about half full on a daily basis. On Sept. 1, 2018, the MBTA dropped the daily rate from $5 to $2 as part of an overall plan to entice people to its under-utilized garages and parking lots.
Since then, average daily usage has increased to nearly 100%, according to the MBTA. The $5 rate remained the same at the MBTA garage in Salem, which is now 82% full on average. The MBTA Twitter account often suggests that commuters head to Salem when the Beverly garage is full.
The new-found popularity of the Beverly garage also has some commuters questioning the MBTA's practice of leasing out spaces to nearby apartment buildings and businesses. In addition to the 70 spaces leased by Holmes Beverly, 16 spaces are reserved for residents and businesses in the Depot Square condo building.
Sarah Barnat, the developer of Holmes Beverly, said her company began leasing 50 spaces in the garage in 2016 for construction workers while the building was under construction. When the building opened last year, she leased an additional 20 spaces. Barnat's company pays $8,750 per month to lease the 70 spaces, according to the MBTA.
Barnat said "it wasn't great planning" for the MBTA to drop parking prices at the same time that the new apartment building opened. But she said the garage is full for only a few hours per day, and her leased spaces means the garage is also used at night.
"At night it's an empty garage," she said.
The new Frank's restaurant that is scheduled to open in November on the first floor of Holmes Beverly might also use spaces in the garage, she said.
Beverly Mayor Mike Cahill said the city installed the parking meters near the depot in order to free up spaces for the increasing number of businesses opening in the area. He said the fact that the garage is full by 8 a.m. on most mornings is "not surprising."
"That's really why it was built," he said.
Richard Goldberg, a Beverly resident who parked at the garage on Thursday morning, said all of the development on Rantoul Street has led to the problem.
"It's sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy of over-development," he said. "I would say there should be some kind of balance. There should be fewer spaces for the residents and more for commuters."
Hurst said the combination of the lower price and the increase in the number of reserved spots for residents has proven to be a bad one for commuters.
"Those things working together have really created a whole lot of frustration for commuters out of Beverly," he said.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or email@example.com.
MBTA parking garage utilization rates for September 2019
Quincy Adams 68%
Route 128 66%