SFMTA: Better Parking Behavior One Reason for Drop in Citations

It'd be nice to think that these PCOs simply ran out of violations to cite. Photo: Aaron Bialick

The recent decline in revenue from parking citations brought on a discussion at Tuesday’s SFMTA Board of Directors meeting about the city’s budget policy on parking. In her latest budget presentation, SFMTA CFO Sonali Bose cited the economy and a reduction in street sweeping but noted that one reason for the drop in ticketing is actually a trend of better driver compliance resulting from factors such as increasing fines and ease of payment brought on by credit card-accessible SFPark meters.

Deficit aside, that’s the kind of trend Bose and some directors want to encourage. “Our policy goal is to actually have people pay the meter rather than having a citation,” she said. In fact, Bose expects to see some of the $7.3 million citation revenue deficit compensated by a rise in meter revenue: “We’re not seeing the negative variance on the meter side.”

The SFMTA will still be deploying more Parking Control Officers, but Director Cheryl Brinkman suggested changes in parking pricing in order to close the gap while encouraging the good behavior. “We do need to look at parking as a system and really figure out what’s going on. If people want to avoid citations, then they might have to accept the fact that we need to expand meter operations and maybe increase meter prices,” she said. “They can’t have it both ways.”

To that end, Brinkman clarified that a more efficient parking system should be less punitive and ultimately make life easier for those who need to drive as well as everyone else. “Personally, I’d like to see the citation charges go down and hours that you can park free decrease. That seems to make more sense – that spot is there, that meter is there – I’d rather have people pay to park at that spot than try to game the system and maybe end up with a ticket,” she said.

“The tickets are expensive, so I can completely see people’s pain when they make a mistake and get back to their meter a little late,” added Brinkman.

While there wasn’t any disagreement expressed against expanding metered parking, Board Chair Tom Nolan and Malcolm Heinicke were sure to dispel any “war on drivers” often presented in media coverage. “I think there’s a perception out there…that when we say we’re going to make the system more efficient, we’re just going to issue more tickets. If there’s efficiency, it might actually benefit some drivers when you add up the costs,” said Heinicke.

Fifty percent of the reduction in issued parking fines is said to be a result of reduced street sweeping, something Heinicke said he hasn’t been able to get an answer about over the years. “We’ve eliminated a service of cleaning the street in a manner that actually costs the city, as a whole, money,” he said.

Although Director Bruce Oka noted his own observations of more careful parking behavior and would like to see high fines become unnecessary, he expressed a less tolerant view of poor parking behavior. “It continues to fascinate me the number of people that complain to me about parking citations that are for people blocking the whole sidewalk, parking in red zones, and this kind of thing,” he said.

“Inevitably, if you don’t want to pay the parking tickets, don’t park illegally.”

  • On the subject of fines specifically, Donald Shoup had an interesting piece in the LA Times recently about increasing the use of “graduated” parking fines vs. flat rate fines- i.e., lowering the fine for those who only occasionally violate regulations, while increasing the penalties for recurring violators:


    Worth some discussion, anyway. It wouldn’t necessarily surprise me if the easier payment methods are already leading to a decrease in the amount of ‘occasional’ violations, while the repeat ‘scofflaws’ remain relatively high.

  • Seven

    “Inevitably, if you don’t want to pay the parking tickets, don’t park illegally.”

    Or park illegally, but work for the City.

    Of course, the news media has heavily reported on the *wink wink* free parking perks for Muni drivers and for City Hall workers.

    But not many know that if you work for Rec & Park, you can park your private car illegally at the Music Concourse for free. However, working stiffs at the Concourse museums pay $200 per month for the garage (recently raised from $120 when the City said discounted parking was illegal).

  • EL

    Brinkman stated: “Personally, I’d like to see the citation charges go down and hours that you can park free decrease.”

    So now that Newsom is nearly out, is she going to champion metering at night and Sundays in exchange for lower fines?

  • Alex

    Of course behaviour is improving, the MTA is relaxing what it considers bad behaviour. They took the low hanging fruit (street cleaning) and binned it.

  • Fran Taylor

    Does this mean the City will finally take sidewalk parking seriously? I don’t see any signs of that driver behavior improving.

  • Word @ Fran. Behavior that up till now has generated most tickets and ticket revenue may be improving, but there’s nothing wrong with going after the remaining bad behavior now that the PCOs seem to have more free time

  • CBrinkman

    It will make for an interesting discussion – extended meter hours, and perhaps increased residential parking permits, and lower citation fees. What is worse, more available parking, paying to park evenings and weekends and getting a less expensive ticket if you do mess up, or expensive tickets and more hours when you don’t have to feed the meter?

    I think it makes more sense in terms of managing parking.

    And Fran, you are right, we do need to talk about sidewalk parking again. First ticking priority should be to ticket cars parked where it is never legal to park.

  • Nick

    It would be nice if the City advertised the PCO’s website. They could ask walkers to send in the most blatant and hazardous areas of sidewalk parking. Collect revenue and improve pedestrian safety.

  • EL

    Cheryl – As much as I agree with you, I think the economic reality that you’ll likely be faced with in the coming months (especially if the number of citations is dropping) is metering at nights and Sundays, and no reduction in fines.

  • CBrinkman

    @EL – you may be correct, but I think we at least need to examine all the options and plan for a budget in which citations make up less of our revenue since that’s happening. I think SFPark will take us that direction anyway – easier to pay, ability to stay at a meter longer on evenings instead of a two hour time limit – and eventually, if parking is priced correctly, no time limits on meters at all, just variable rates as demand changes. I don’t know if the ability to put more money and time on the meter via cell phone is a reality or just a reality in my mind, but that will come eventually I think.

    Graduated fines really interest me but I believe the logistics and tracking of citations might be more difficult and expensive then it would be worth.

  • moka

    Yes, let’s talk about sidewalk parking again. And then hopefully do something about it.

    #1 improvement: make reporting of sidewalk parking easier.

  • Alex

    So, for all of you who are complaining about sidewalk parking: how many of you report the cars you see parked on the sidewalk? I call and report them, and typically a PCO is dispatched and a ticket issued. The last one I reported I stuck around to see how long it would take. Fifteen minutes. Considering how lax enforcement is on other parking issues, I’d say that’s not a bad response at all.

  • I don’t see any signs of that driver behavior improving.

  • Alex – right here. Although I’ve never stuck around to see, I have passed by cars I called in on my block after going home and leaving again (usually much longer than 15 min later), but I have yet to see a ticket on a windshield. Glad to hear of a case of quick response.

  • Morton


    I think it might be counter-productive to call in every vehicle you see on a sidewalk. Unless the DPT cops are just sitting around doing nothing, then calling them in for one vehicle just means that another one somewhere else gets off. That is especially true if they have to go way off their route.

    We should leave DPT to decide which cases are worse than which other cases. Although of course there is an exception here for cases where you are personally obstructed e.g. blocking the entrance to your garage.

    But shopping your neighbors smacks of neighborhood vigilante’s, and probably won’t make you very popular if you are rumbled.

    BTW, it’s my understanding that drivers get a “pass” for temporary sidewalk parking during sreet cleaning hours. So it’s worth checking that it’s not one of those time windows before calling in the posse.

    Finally, if paid parking hours are extended into the evenings or week-ends, then I’d like to see city-wide resident’s parking permits, so that we don’t have to pay to park on our own street when we get get home from work.

  • Morton – if you live on a street with parking meters – you’ve already made some life decisions that opened you up for problems like that. It’s a business district. And as will be repeated ad nasueum – you “live on” the street, but you do not “own” that street.

  • Morton


    “if you live on a street with parking meters – you’ve already made some life decisions that opened you up for problems like that.”

    Well, that depends whether the meters were there when you bought the house. Or whether they came along later.

    But I think a lot of us who have meters in our residential neighborhood (not talking about downtown here) feel that meters deter out-of-towners from parking there all day and using transit to commute downtown. But do not see the same need after business hours.

    More generally, meters exists to ensure turnover during business hours. Compelling residents to feed a meter outside their own home at night doesn’t really help the overall congestion and traffic problems of the city in the same way. It’s not like we can choose not to go home after work.

    So I wasn’t arguing for free parking everywhere at all. If I visit another neighborhood, I expect to pay to park. But night and week-end meters seem overkill for local residents. Better to extend the residents parking permits, while ensuring out-of-town and out-of-neighborhood drivers still have to pay.

  • Private car storage for free in public space isn’t a right. It’s an amenity that the city provides for the convenience of some citizens at the expense of other uses for the same space. We may feel that this is something San Francisco should continue to do because it has always done so, but it is a choice for San Francisco, not a legal or moral obligation.

    In the Brookline area of Boston, no one can park on the street overnight, not even the people who live there. When friends of mine lived there, they rented a space in a lot a few blocks away. The world did not end. It probably did make them manage with owning just one car, however.

    From Brookline’s website:

    “Residents with no off-street parking spaces may find it difficult to comply with the all night parking ban. To minimize this inconvenience, the Town of Brookline rents out a total of 309 spaces in 11 town-owned parking lots and the Courtyard Marriott Hotel.”

  • Morton


    A policy of no street parking overnight is a wonderful idea.

    But it assumes that there is an adequate supply of off-street parking and lots to accomodate all the vehicles.

    That might be true in Brookline which, If I recall correctly from when I was there, has a lot of multi-storey lots even in residential areas.

    But it clearly isn’t the case in San Francisco. Most drivers don’t want to park on the street. They’d much rather park in a safe, protected lot if there was one. But they don’t exist in most neighborhoods.

    So if you wish to advocate building lots all over the city and then pass such a law, I think you’d find a lot of support.

  • Better to let the free market handle it. After all, this is the USA, not communist China.

    End the rip-off to taxpayers and start charging for on-street parking. (They’re our streets and we want to get paid!) Or raise the rates to reasonable levels in those neighborhoods where the city does already charge for parking. ($8/month is a joke.)

    Once reasonable rates are in place, new parking lots will appear as if by magic! (On an as-needed basis, due to the “invisible hand” of the market 😉

  • Morton


    By that argument, how much should we charge people for walking on sidewalks and in parks?

    How about a flat fee for parking bikes on sidewalks?

    Once you take a mercenary attitude towards public space, how will you ever know where and when to stop?

    Punitive parking fees hit the poor the most – those who need cars for work or family but don’t have a garage. The rich mostly have garages in their homes or off-street alternatives.

    Otherwise build the off-street parking first, and then charge. Oh, and improve Muni while you’re at it so folks actually have an alternative to owning a car.

  • Obviously don’t charge for walking on sidewalks etc. The point of contention is lack of parking. The problem is that it’s given away free. There’s a direct connection there. Giving it away free guarantees shortages, which is what we have.

    1/3 of households in SF don’t even have a car. Some of the poor would be less so if they ditched their cars! Lots of people have problems, but it’s not the taxpayers’ responsibility to fix them all. We might, for worthwhile causes, but free or subsidized parking isn’t one of them. Especially when the city is broke!

  • Although I’ve never stuck around to see, I have passed by cars I called in on my block after going home and leaving again (usually much longer than 15 min later), but I have yet to see a ticket on a windshield. Glad to hear of a case of quick response.

  • The whole point is to stop people from driving cars and traveling outside of town because that’s too much individualism and independence. Thomas Moores Utopia, Platos Republic, Hobbes Leviathan; these ideals are the oldest on the planet and are publicly available. These goals are clearly stated in the One Bay Area plan for a utopian Kommiefornia. Meet UN Agenda 21, folks. Stack and pack housing, overpriced and ill conceived public transit pograms, and social engineering to force conformity. These things are ironically labelled “sustainable” and “environmentally intelligent.” SFMTA is issuing tickets from inside their offices and is using illegitimate ticketing to bully people they don’t like, especially people who they see as political enemies. They are issuing so many false tickets it’s shocking they aren’t in prison.

    I just received a delinquency notice for a ticket that was never issued to me, for a violation I never committed, and that does not contain the legally required information. The officer gave the wrong time and location in order to give me a street sweeping ticket, but ignored the many vehicles which were actually in violation. I didn’t even have a chance to break the law because all the spaces were full.

    We should be able to resolve issues with corrupt government officials by bare-knuckles cage matches to the death, not more bureaucracy.

  • Your notice was sent to you because the Obama administration noted from your time in the military that you are a subversive to the state, and the simplest way to deal with you is to steal your money and tie you up in red tape. They sent info to the SFMTA acquired from the DMV, once that happened it did not matter if you were even in California.


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