SFPark: “It’s Really an Exciting Time in the Meter World”

sign.jpgSigns for the new SFPark pilot. Photos: Matthew Roth

The Port of San Francisco last week installed the first 8 of more than 100 new multi-space meters along the Embarcadero from the Ferry Building south to AT&T Park in what will become San Francisco's new pilot in dynamic parking management, SFPark. The Port meters are the first of what will be a year and a half trial with 6,000 curbside spaces and 11,500 garage spaces in seven pilot areas around the city, most of them downtown and in heavy-traffic tourist destinations (see map below).

As we've reported, it will be the largest pilot to test parking icon Donald Shoup's theories about parking vacancy targets and measure the results of the data collection with precision unmatched by any other city.  As Shoup said to Streetsblog about the SFPark pilot, "You can't manage what you can't measure. [This] will allow San Francisco to measure what has never been measured before: real-time occupancy rates for curb parking.  Once city managers understand what these occupancy sensors can do, they'll wonder how they ever got along without them."

The occupancy sensors, which have not yet been installed on the Embarcadero, will network wirelessly with meters and send data to transmission boxes mounted on poles and buildings. The various transmission boxes throughout pilot areas create a peered network that gives parking managers the ability to access real-time payment and occupancy data, which will greatly refine enforcement efforts, as well as real-time meter functionality, thus making maintenance and repair much more efficient. 

MTA spokesperson Judson True was very upbeat about the progress that SFPark represents for the city and suggested this is merely the beginning of managing streets and parking in a much more sophisticated manner.

This represents a degree of coordination that we've never seen between the SFMTA and the Port, and we're excited because we think about all the policy progress this represents, but we know that this is better for residents and visitors of San Francisco. The goal of the coordination is to improve the experience of people using meters around San Francisco.

Much of the funding for SFPark comes from federal funds as part of San Francisco's Urban Partnership Agreement for congestion reduction. True explained that they have yet to select the vendor for the occupancy sensors and networking, but he was confident that all the pilot areas would be operational by fall 2009.  He likewise expressed optimism that future funding from the Urban Partnership program or other federal sources would be available, given San Francisco's unique position to demonstrate the potential for dynamic management throughout so much of the city.

Meter_profile.jpgThe new pay stations on Embarcadero
Each new multi-space pay station on Embarcadero replaces 8 to 10 single-space meters, which have been covered with fabric hoods that direct motorists to pay at the pay station according to the number assigned on the hood.  Pay stations will still accept coins, but now allow users to pay by credit card and MTA Smart Card debit cards. In all, the Port will replace nearly 1000 meters along Embarcadero with the new stations.

Tina Olson, CFO for the Port, shared True's excitement and explained that the Port viewed the parking pilot from the perspective of improving convenience for users. "If you go up and down the Embarcadero near Fisherman's Wharf, it's packed and you can't find parking, but if you're south of the Bay Bridge, it's empty.  When something is priced appropriately, it's available. If people want parking spaces to be available, they need to be priced appropriately."

Olsen explained that the Port was not part of the Urban Partnership grant, so they are looking to improve revenue from facilities that are currently under-priced. "The Port is a unique animal," she said. "We're private sector on the revenue side, but government on the expenditure side. We have to make money based on the use of our facilities and we didn't seem to be optimizing our revenue nor our management of the spaces."

Like the MTA, Olson explained that the Port made an agreement with its governing commission to adjust parking rates in the pilot areas up or down by a maximum of $.50 every 4-6 weeks. Special events are a different matter. With many of the new meters located near AT&T Park, the Port will experiment with event pricing pegged to nearby garage rates, meaning parking at the curb near the ballpark during a game will cost around $20.

Building from the results of the Port's pilot study on parking management from 2006 [PDF], they will be much more fluid with time limits where that is appropriate. Olson said that in their pilot study area around Fisherman's Wharf, nearly 95 percent of drivers parked at the curb for two hours or less, so they will keep the two hour limit there.  South of Bryant, where there is less competition for space on non-event days, parking limits will be as long as 12 hours for paid spaces.  The Port's meters will also run until 11 pm.

When asked whether the Port is worried about backlash similar to what happened in Los Angeles when parking meter rates were raised substantially without thorough public outreach, Olson said that they have seven public advisory committees that have been involved with this for three years and they've done ample outreach.

"There will be some people we didn't hit, but we've hit all the people who are most interested in the public realm. Now when I talk about it with them, their eyes glaze over and they ask when they're going to be implemented."

She added: "This represents the future of parking management in San Francisco and we're on track to deliver it and the project is moving forward well. It's really an exciting time in the meter world."

arrow_meter.jpgSingle space meters have been covered with instructions for paying at new multi-space pay stations.

SFParkPilot_Cropped_small.jpgSF Park Pilot Areas - Richmond and West Portal control areas not featured