Would Chron Find Walking and Chewing Gum “Argh” Hard, Too?

meter_cover.jpgThe biggest menace to motoring since pedestrians. Photo: Matthew Roth

Dear San Francisco Chronicle:

Your story today on SFPark is a new low, infantilizing a parking management pilot that is the envy of municipalities across the country and has the attention of cities as far-flung as Tokyo, Japan. For an agency that is getting more than enough bad publicity on things that it does poorly–and we’re the first in line to harp on the negative–the MTA deserves credit for coordinating with the Port to develop the largest and most sophisticated parking management system in the world, which will allow city managers to finally measure with precision the driving and parking patterns in San Francisco so that the streets can become more efficient and less congested.

How do you cover this giant leap for parking-kind? You exaggerate a simple learning curve for a new multi-space meter as though it were a technological Berlin Wall.

"These newfangled meters take much more skill to operate than simply dropping coins into a slot," writes Rachel Gordon, who I’m hard pressed to believe took this editorial tack on her own, given that she rides transit regularly, has been covering transportation issues for awhile and isn’t as bound to the windshield perspective as her editors seem to be.

Just how much more skill do these "newfangled meters" take?

Drivers have to remember the number assigned to their space and then
log in the information on a keypad. Then they have to decide whether to
pay with a credit card, debit card or coins, and finally they have to
figure out how to select how much time they want.

To steal from SNL’s Weekend Update: Really? Really?!?

However will the piteous parkers decide what form of payment to use and how much time they’re planning to park? I guess they should just give up before they begin, not come into San Francisco at all, and spend their dollars at the mall in Walnut Creek, where parking is so much more civilized and free (what’s more ridiculous is that some of the comments on the story essentially say as much).

MTA spokesperson Judson True, ever more diplomatic than me, acknowledged that this kind of coverage is unfortunate.

It’s a little frustrating to have the focus be on the challenges
that are natural with any new program, but we are working hard to
improve the signage and fundamentally we know that these new meters and
all new SFPark meters are going to bring better parking management to
San Francisco.  That’s going to be more convenient for people and
better for the city as a whole.

The story comes around at the end with a compensatory nod to one of the primary benefits of SFPark, namely that it provides more payment options for motorists. Not to mention the radical departure it will mark from the catch-as-catch-can parking management, enforcement, and meter maintenance that passes for street management currently. With future iterations of SFPark likely to include real-time parking information beamed to cell phones, static directional signs, and on-board navigation systems, San Francisco will see a great reduction in cruising for parking and the attendant environmental and congestion impacts of what, in some cities, is as much as 45 percent of all traffic.

So yeah, some drivers will have to take a second to figure out how to read the instructions on the meters, but if they can manage to text while driving, I have confidence this won’t break the camel’s back. 


  • Kind of terrifying to think that people who are flabbergasted by a keypad and a credit card slot are behind the wheel of those cars that whiz past you every day.

  • There are many “smart meter” systems out there that make a big difference in terms of collecting money more efficiently and make it easier for people to pay and thus not get a stupid ticket.

    It’s a bit early to assess how it’s all going – I mean, how long have they been up? A few weeks? A month?

    The system I like is the one that has cameras built in to detect people blocking a red zone or bus stop, and takes a pic and issues a ticket immediately, and also allows people to pay for their meter (or tickets) at the meter. Cuts out the admin cost and makes it more likely a) people pay and b) people pay tix.

  • Sam

    After living with these machines in Berkeley and Oakland, they are a royal pain! The “ticketless” machines in SF may be a bit better, but only as long as it is completely unambiguous what the space number is, and which machine(s) service it.

    Remember too, that with the location being along the tourist sections, so many users will be faced with a “first time” learning curve. You may chuckle, but I’ve seen 3-4 people lined up at a kiosk. Waiting for an extra five minutes every so often really shows how “efficient” the old mechanical beasts were. And, they doubled as bike stands. Is this really progress?

  • Hi, Chron green blogger here. I think you’re taking this way to seriously. Every day, another story: You have to come up with an engaging angle. And the local paper’s job is to look at things like an average citizen does. So it makes sense that the story would focus on how citizens get used to the new machines. But the article does not say they’re a disaster, or that driving is the only way to go. The fact that the story was on the home page, I think, indicates that the editors take transit (and the city budget woes) seriously.

    I’m not paid to defend the paper, and if you read my blog you’ll see I’m very, very friendly to transit (and to Streetsblog). But remember, the Chron’s mission isn’t to advance public transit. It’s to tell people what’s going on in their city and how it might affect them.

  • turtles

    I mean, we all knew car drivers were complete morons,… Tomorrow’s Rachel Gordon story: “Car drivers say ‘arrgh’ to figuring out when to go: Red? Green? …Yellow?

  • Michael P.

    I love that they somehow turn the new ability to pay with a credit card into a negative:

    “Then they have to decide whether to pay with a credit card, debit card or coins”

    Oh no, you have to make a decision! That could take hours!!!

  • People could get confused by all those different kinds of coins because they come in different sizes and have different numbers on them. Also, the machines might steal your soul.

  • gs

    what is most ironic about this complaining is that the thing most people gripe about parking meters is that they have to carry coins around and that most meters only take quarters. We solve that problem, and all of a sudden people claim they’d rather be forced to carry around pockets full of quarters. you simply can’t please people who don’t like change, even if it’s change they asked for.

  • SfResident

    Somehow I doubt that the “average citizen” drives to the embarcadero very often. And I also doubt that the “average citizen” would really be confused by so simple a machine.

    The fact that politicians, the business community, and the media imagine the these folk to be “average citizens” is the root of the problem (and what does this make transit riders? “below average” citizens?).

    While I’m not going to get all that worked up over this, the whole angle of the story lead: “unwitting” drivers being “confused” by a “revolutionary” government “experiment” does nothing but build upon and feed into anti-transit bias. Something that the Chronicle does all too often. Out of all of the angles this story could have taken, the fact that it took this one is rather disappointing. It speaks more to the irrational and sensational fears of drivers than it does to the obligations of the fourth estate.

  • theo

    Remember, SFgate readers aren’t average citizens. They’re much more senile and less street smart. SFgate commenters, in particular, are also dumber than the average citizen.

  • Dave

    @Cameron S

    While I laud your resolve, keep in mind the diction in the article sets the tone of the article – the “spin” if you will

    For instance –

    The article could have described the process like this: The drivers remember their stall number and choose whether to pay with credit card…

    But instead describes the burden as: Drivers have to remember the number assigned to their space and then log in the information on a keypad. Then they have to decide whether to pay with a credit card…

    It might even have been phrased as: Drivers get to choose their payment option.

    Still, great to see Chronicle coverage of this “exciting” parking milestone. Hopefully there will be both less congestion and more easy-to-find parking going forward!

  • riderdriver

    I ride transit far more than I drive, but I occasionally drive, and I’ve used these machines in other cities, including Oakland. San Francisco’s are worse. They took a decent design and made it more difficult. Like those second generation BART ticket machines that required multiple steps on different screens. It’s possible to figure out, and not that tough, but why make it more difficult than necessary? I’d rather get the parkers (many of them tourists or bridge and tunnel folks) to pay the city at the metersthan park in private lots. Of course, I’d rather have them take transit, but some people aren’t going to.

  • Matthew, first, the Chron has regularly visited positions much, much lower than this. Once YOUR ox gets gored you begin to notice.

    Their editorial stance derives from the position that San Francisco serves many needs. and those of San Franciscans are last on the list, especially progressives and forward thinkers. They represent the boosterist impulse which has held sway to a great extent since the 80s.

    Second, Rachel Gordon, as of 3 yr ago, drives a BMW X-5, and writs as she does to keep her job as she’s more of a press release transcriber of the posers that be than a critical journalist, unless, of course, it is time to criticize progressives.



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