Jason Heard got to Fenway Park at noon for Monday’s Red Sox home opener, but he wasn’t there to watch the game. Instead, Heard was working for a parking lot tucked behind the ballpark, waving cars into an alley with a bright orange flag.
Fifty dollars per carload for the prime spots. If that seems steep, the market didn’t think so — an hour and a half before the first pitch, Heard was using his flag to tell people there were no more spots to be had.
Any tips on where to find an open lot? one driver asked. Heard wasn’t optimistic. “Your best bet?” he quipped. “I’d say all bets are off.”
Getting around Fenway can be difficult even in the middle of a long baseball season. Add the optimism of a new season and one of the first sunny days Boston has seen since a brutal winter faded away, and you’ve got a virtual bloodsport on your hands.
Entrepreneurs have taken notice. This year, Boston is seeing a growing number of digital options crop up for booking spaces in private lots and garages, either on the Web ahead of time or via a smartphone while on the go.
In the days ahead of Monday’s home opener at Fenway, a handful of companies were competing for a slice of the parking haul, promising to save drivers plenty of time and money — or giving them access to expensive, highly convenient spots.
They were no doubt helped by the City of Boston’s recent move to drastically increase fines for illegally parking in residential spots near Fenway, from $40 to $100.
At the offices of Boston-based parking startup SPOT, employees spent most of the past month trying to sign up owners of private parking lots, garages, and even individual spaces to put their parking up for sale through the company’s app and website.
“Something like Opening Day is going to be absolutely huge for us,” CEO Braden Golub said last week. “Anytime that anyone can find a better deal than 60 bucks for parking, they’re jumping up and down. And we’re going to provide that.”
Another online parking reseller, Chicago-based SpotHero, touted its 190 available parking spaces within a radius of just over a half-mile around Fenway. Parking Panda, based in Baltimore, was playing up its exclusive partnership deal with the Red Sox, which lets users purchase parking spots directly through the team’s site. The Red Sox are one of a half-dozen teams that have signed up for the service.
As game time approached on Monday, a live check of each of the apps offered a window into the rapidly shifting market for a coveted parking spot.
SpotHero had both the most expensive and some of the cheapest spots in an informal Globe survey, ranging from a $100 valet-parked spot at a hotel just off Yawkey Way to a $14 spot for eight hours in a garage at Copley Place, about a mile from the park.
Parking Panda had a good selection, but its best spots were sold out by 12:30 p.m., two and a half hours before the opening pitch. At that point, the nearest spot listed by Parking Panda was a theater district garage for $24, with the next available spots much farther out in Harvard Square ($30 and $35) and the North End ($37).
By noon, SPOT also showed no spots within a half-mile of the park, but it had several options a mile away: a $5-per-hour alley space off Newbury Street, and a garage space near the hotels on Boylston Street that cost $30 for the whole day.
Back on the sunny streets outside Fenway, the cutthroat competition for parking was on full display as thousands continued to surge toward the ballpark. Pat Mullaney of Waltham was one of the lucky ones who got into the big lot directly across the street from the Yawkey Way gates. His price was a relative steal at $40.
“You’re right across from the park!” he said. “Would I do it again? Sure. Is it expensive? Yes.”
It could have been a lot more expensive. As Mullaney crossed the street in search of a pregame beer, a bearded man in a Cadillac Escalade tried to buy his way into the same lot.
“Two hundred,” he pleaded, holding up two fingers. The red-shirted attendant, standing next to a “Lot Full” sign at the gate, simply shook his head and waved the car away.