Mayor Gavin Newsom has been quietly pressuring MTA Chief Nat Ford to delay or prevent proposals to extend parking meter hours on weeknights and Sundays, despite a looming mid-year MTA budget deficit and studies that show it’s good policy, Streetsblog has learned.
A study on the parking management and revenue implications of expanded meter enforcement, which Ford promised within 90 days, was initiated as part of a "compromise" in late May to prevent the Board of Supervisors from rejecting the MTA’s 2009-10 budget. It has now been more than 120 days and the study has not been made public, although Streetsblog has spoken to sources who have seen a summary of the draft.
"The Mayor thinks it’s the wrong time to make these moves," said Nathan Ballard, Newsom’s communications director. "Right now, with the economy where it is, the burden on ordinary people for city services is already stretched to the max, and so he hasn’t seen anything that convinces him otherwise. He’s open to arguments, but he’s still where he was."
Ballard said the study "is nearing completion" and would eventually be made available to the public. Judson True, the MTA spokesperson, said the agency is working to finalize it. "[It] will be a thorough effort based on sound parking-management ideas and extensive stakeholder outreach. We hope that it will elevate some of the recent discussions on parking."
The delay, however, is troubling, considering the pledge made to the Board of Supervisors, particularly BOS Prez David Chiu, who rescinded his motion to reject the MTA budget after receiving assurances from the Mayor the study would be forthcoming.
In an interview, Chiu pointed out, as he did during the budget crisis, that working class families and Muni riders were forced to bear four times the burden of what drivers were asked, in the way of fare increases and service cuts.
"Everyone agreed that a parking study would be done to figure out the fairest way to have car owners carry their fair share," said Chiu. "Given that it is highly likely there will be a more significant mid-year budget deficit, we need to consider all options before we consider service cuts to Muni and other public transit options."
After that exhaustive supervisors meeting May 27, Ford was asked by Streetsblog how he could promise serious consideration of extended meters given Newsom’s adamant opposition. His response?
"I think that’s premature at this point to assume that. I think, if we have a reasonable plan that takes into account all the impacts, I have found with the Mayor, as well as the Board of Supervisors, that they’ve been supportive of some of those suggestions we’ve made and in this case we need a little bit of time."
According to our sources who’ve seen the summary, the study affirms that extending meter hours is good parking management that will improve driver convenience and create turnover for businesses. The agency is said to have compared more than twenty commercial streets on Wednesday and Friday nights, and Sunday during the day, and apparently found that commercial districts across the city are seeing occupancy rates near 100 percent not long after meters are turned off. Streetsblog has been informed that the study found the problem is especially acute on Sundays, when commercial streets in the study areas see near total occupancy while the majority of the businesses on those streets on average are still open.
Cities all across the country leave their meters on much later than 6 p.m., regardless of the current state of the economy. Take Los Angeles: Santa Monica, Old Pasadena, and West Hollywood leave meters on until 2 a.m. New York City, Milwaukee, and Miami Beach, run meters until midnight. Denver, Las Vegas, and Washington, DC, run meters until 10 p.m. How is San Francisco going to be the most innovative parking demand-management city and implement SFpark if it can’t even get the nerve to keep meters on as long as Bethesda, Maryland (10 p.m.) or Park City, Utah (8 p.m.)?
In a city with a stated Transit First policy and an MTA with the power to apply parking revenue directly to transit operations, there is no excuse to throw good money down the drain. According to our sources who have seen the MTA study’s summary, increasing parking meter hours in targeted commercial districts would generate a significant amount of money for an agency that desperately needs any source of revenue it has available for transit operations.
Not only would killing the proposals amount to bad parking management, it wouldn’t be responsive to the public’s stated priorities. According to surveys from the recently finished SFCTA On-Street Parking Management and Pricing Study, respondents ranked price of parking spaces behind parking availability, flexibility, proximity and safety. While the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce has not been supportive of extending meters on weekdays, they would like the city to extend meter hours on Sundays. The Port recently extended meter hours until 11 p.m. and there is no indication businesses are hurting.
If the Mayor is nervous about a fallout similar to what has happened in parts of Oakland around parking meter times and fee increases, he should take the lead on the issue by brandishing a study based on substantial data and make the argument that increasing meter hours will free up parking spaces in commercial districts to improve business. What’s more, unlike Oakland, the MTA would not lump the increased parking meter revenue into a general fund as a budget stop-gap, but would use the money to improve transit.
Mayor Newsom should embrace the MTA’s study, let Ford and the MTA Board implement extended metering and help the agency find additional new sources of revenue instead of trying to quash some of the most important, sensible options on the table.