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.

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