SFPark Trial Poised to Begin as City Installs New “Coin and Card” Meters

new_meter_small.jpgClick image to enlarge: the new single-space SFPark meters. Image: SFMTA.

San Francisco’s parking and traffic managers know the public is going to love or hate the new SFPark demand-based parking management trial depending on how it delivers on the fundamental promises made from the beginning: The trial will make parking more convenient and efficient.

Perhaps no piece of this experience will be as important as the new parking meters. If they function as advertised, they will make paying for parking as simple as a swipe of a credit card and they will de-stigmatize the visceral revulsion that many drivers have when they think of parking meters.

If they aren’t simple and intuitive, you can expect the meter-hating piranhas to swarm.

"When we talk about parking at community meetings, people are deeply
skeptical of the SFMTA’s intentions when it comes to parking management," said Jay Primus, SFPark project manager at the the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), which runs Muni and manages parking policy. 

"The explicit goal of [SFPark] is to make parking easier to find, and
once you find it, make it easier to pay for, more convenient. That’s an
important goal in a transit-first city," said Primus. "It’s not good for anyone not to be able to find a
space and end up circling around."

The SFMTA will begin installing the first 200 of its new IPS single-space parking meters early next week in Hayes Valley. Rather than remove the poles and tear holes in the sidewalk, the new installation is as simple as detaching the crown of the existing meters and replacing them with a new interface that promises to be much easier to use. By August the SFMTA will install a few hundred Duncan multi-space pay stations, the same vendor that manufactured the city’s current motorcycle meters.

Perhaps the most exciting part of the installation, at least to people who get excited about parking meters, is that customers will be able to pay with credit cards at all the new meters in addition to coins and SFMTA parking cards.

The SFPark "Coin and Card" single-space meters will replace approximately 5,000 meters across the city in the pilot areas, though the SFMTA has already experimented with a small batch of them in Hayes Valley over the past year. According to Primus, user response with those meters has been very positive. In surveys, drivers said the ability to use credit cards made the experience relatively hassle free.

Ross Mirkarimi, District 5 Supervisor who represents portions of the Hayes Valley trial area, corroborated Primus’ analysis of the public reaction to the trial. "I’ve talked to a number of people and they like it," said Mirkarimi. "People who approach me unsolicited tell me they like it."

SFPark_trial_areas.jpgClick image to enlarge map of SFPark trial areas. Image: SFMTA.

As the new meters are installed, they will be paired with the vehicle sensors installed in the street to produce a tremendous new data set about how drivers use on-street parking and how they pay for it. In order to further facilitate convenient parking, as the new meters go in, time limits will be extended from one or two hours to four hours. In some cases, the SFMTA will experiment with eliminating time limits completely, which has proven beneficial in other cities given the extensive labor hours required to enforce limits. Primus pointed to the removal of time limits in Redwood City and the positive experience there for drivers and parking control officers.

To underscore the idea that the new meters are not simply a more technologically savvy way of nabbing parking scofflaws, Primus said the convenience of paying for parking and the elimination of time limits should lead to better payment rates and a reduction in parking fines. Right now, the SFMTA collects about $30 million a year in revenue from parking meters and about $90 million a year in parking tickets, though only $17 million of that is meter related (half of the rest of the fines are from street sweeping tickets).

Still, Primus isn’t satisfied with that reasonably healthy ratio of parking meter to fine revenue (New York City parking tickets net five times more than meter revenue). Part
of the purpose of SFPark is to move away from a punitive,
citation-oriented parking system, said Primus.

"Just as we’d love everyone to pay
when they ride Muni, we’d love everyone to pay at the meter and we’d
love not to give any tickets," he said. "By making it really easy to pay and
extending time limits, we expect meter revenue to go up and the number
of citations we give to go down."

As with any new technology, it will take some time for drivers to familiarize themselves with how it works, so the SFMTA will have "meter greeters" out as the installation progresses to answer questions the public might have about the new payment options. They will also work with merchants on the commercial corridors where the meters are being installed to inform them of the new features.

With so many negative headlines about Muni service cuts and budget deficits, the SFMTA is hopeful its parking meter pilot will get attention for the right reasons.

"Installing better parking meters is just the first step towards making parking easier to find and easier to pay for," said SFMTA CEO Nat Ford. "SFPark will help to reduce congestion and air pollution, and promises to support our overall system-wide efforts.

  • Christine

    I find that the meters would be more convenient if it also accepted dollar bills.

  • Jwb

    Elimination of time limits? This seems like a major shift in policy.

  • Nick J

    Does this new meter display any pricing information? Seems like information regarding peak or responsive prices need to be clearly displayed.

  • sweet, I can still lock my bike to those meters.

  • me

    A government agency seeking to reduce its revenue ? me thinketh not.

  • voltaire’s mistress

    To me:

    I agree. I can’t imagine the MTA forgoing revenue because drivers suddenly could start paying regularly for their street parking. (No more tickets because you couldn’t find that last bit of change in your car or make it back in 59 minutes to your meter!)I would wager that the MTA simply shifts from fines to regular fees collected for all forms of parking, moving about, etc. That’s what makes the proposed congestion fees so attractive — install the technology and let the money roll in.

    Actually, I support a system based on regular payments instead of punitive but occasional fines on the less organized, the tourist, or the distracted resident.

    But let’s not kid ourselves. The MTA would then systematically raise fees to cover what was lost from lucrative ticketing. It would also expand its reach and diversify its activities in order to keep itself in business. A bureaucracy, whether private or public, never shrinks itself.

  • patrick

    This is a good project. It will result in our limited parking being used more efficiently and result in parking being easier to find & easier to pay for.

  • Alex

    “As the new meters are installed, they will be paired with the vehicle sensors installed in the street to produce a tremendous new data set about how drivers use on-street parking and how they pay for it”

    If that’s the case, this will likely be paired with software that will let the meter maids determine who’s parked in violation and greatly increase the MTA’s ticketing efficiency. I don’t see this as a huge loss in revenue. Besides, if the MTA gave a hoot about ticketing revenue, they’d be all over the cutbacks in street sweeping (currently their most lucrative enforcement effort).

  • leo fish

    So, are hourly meter rates going up?

    In some places where the trials are going on they are $3.50/hr

  • Leo Fish,
    The rates will be adjusted based on demand and supply. If there are a lot of people looking for a place to park and there is no space, the rates will be adjusted up. This incremental adjustment will be small and periodic, say $.25-.$50 a month depending on availability. In some places where parking is already too expensive, the rate will go down.

    Several SFMTA folks in hearings recently have acknowledged that the price increase for motorcycles to $.70/hour was too much and those rates will come back down as SFPark is implemented. When they raised the rates, motorcycle riders found other places to park (most likely illegally between cars) rather than pay the rate.

    In a perfect SFPark world, they are shooting for approximately 85% occupancy on any block. Check out some of the other links in this story to earlier SFPark posts for more detail.

  • @jwb, it’s a major shift in policy, but it is in keeping with the practical reality of parking enforcement. Time limit enforcement is so onerous most enforcement entities don’t do it, so effectively time limits are a waste of time.

    @Nick J – yeah, the meters will display the rate.

    @Mike Fogel – check this post, if you haven’t already:
    http://sf.streetsblog.org/2009/07/01/when-old-parking-meter-poles-go-so-often-does-bike-parking/

  • theo

    It makes a lot of sense to switch from punitive ticketing to fees, since people don’t psychologically consider tickets as a cost of parking (they’re thought of like a mistake, or an act of god). This way the real cost of parking is clear to everyone deciding to drive to downtown or the Mission instead of taking transit.

  • EL

    The SFpark goal of 85% occupancy by adjusting rates is only punitive to those who don’t use a disabled placard. In fact, higher rates will likely increase abuse. You only need to go downtown or Chinatown to see that disabled placards create the supply problem and these new meters, parking rates, and sensors do nothing to address the heart of the problem.

  • @EL the disabled permit exemption is based on a quite flawed assumption: that theres free parking somewhere farther away from the “destination” that abled body people can walk from. This just isn’t the situation in many urban environments, especially in downtown San Francisco where all parking both on and off street is paid.

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