Mayor Lee’s Spineless Sunday Meter Reversal: Bad for Business, Bad for SF

Sunday parking meters have cut cruising times in half, according to an SFMTA report. Mayor Lee wants to undo that.

After a years-long push to implement a smart parking policy in San Francisco, leave it to Mayor Ed Lee to take us back to 1947.

The mayor wants to repeal parking metering on Sundays, undoing the slew of benefits that the policy has brought to the city in its first year. As a recent SFMTA report lays out, Sunday metering has increased turnover for businesses and reduced car traffic circling for parking in commercial areas. Previously, meter hours hadn’t been updated since 1947, when businesses generally weren’t open on Sundays.

Mayor Lee. Image: CBS 5

By pandering to drivers complaining about parking tickets, the mayor appears to be betting he’ll win support for three transportation funding measures expected to hit the ballot in November. But reinstating free parking would come at incredible cost in the form of extra car traffic, while undermining the SFMTA’s ability to implement rational transportation policy.

Lee’s absurd argument is that SF doesn’t need Sunday metering because Muni will have sufficient funding once voters approve the ballot measures. It’s an insult to the transit-riding public, and it shows how out of touch he is with the city’s transportation needs. Explaining why he didn’t stand in the way of Sunday metering when it was adopted, he told the SF Chronicle this week, “I’ve always felt uncomfortable with it, but Muni was suffering and we needed the money,” as if parking meters serve no purpose other than revenue collection.

Yet the Chamber of Commerce backed Sunday metering — and it still does, because it’s good for business, said Jim Lazarus, senior vice president for public policy. “In most commercial corridors, virtually every business is open on Sunday,” he said. Without metering, “There are neighborhoods where it’s difficult, if you have to drive to do any business, because parking is just not available from Saturday night until Monday morning.”

Sadly, it looks as though the Mayor is playing political games instead of responsibly managing the city’s transportation system,” said Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich. “Aside from the revenue hit to Muni, what’s disappointing about the mayor’s move is that the facts show that Sunday metering was working – parking availability and turnover increased in commercial districts, which is helpful to merchants and shoppers.”

“Improved parking availability reduces cruising for parking, which in turn reduces danger to pedestrians and cyclists, traffic congestion in neighborhoods, air pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions.”

The benefits were demonstrated in a December SFMTA report [PDF] on the impacts of Sunday metering in 2013:

  • The average time drivers took to find a parking spot during Sunday meter hours was cut in half, from four minutes to less than two.
  • Turnover increased by at least 20 percent, meaning that more customers were using the same amount of parking spaces.
  • The average availability of parking on Sunday doubled during metered hours, increasing from 15 to 31 percent.
  • The city’s underutilized parking garages are being used more: Garage occupancy on Sundays from 12pm to 6pm increased by 13 percent.

Meanwhile, Mayor Lee claims that the city still receives a litany of complaints about Sunday meters, and he hopes to appease those folks. But as of September 2013, the city’s 311 service had received just 23 calls and emails complaining about Sunday metering, according to the SFMTA report.

Regardless of whether the mayor’s anti-meter mob is real, reversing great policy to appease complainers is a terrible idea. Using the stats in the SFMTA report, the mayor’s position could be framed another way. Mayor Lee wants to:

  • Double the average time drivers take to find a commercial parking spot on Sundays.
  • Reduce turnover by at least 20 percent, meaning that fewer customers can park in each space.
  • Cut the availability of commercial parking during Sunday business hours in half.
  • Reduce occupancy of underutilized parking garages on Sundays by 13 percent.

Additionally, by arguing that we can do without Sunday meter revenue because voters will be asked to approve transportation funding measures (for capital improvements, not Muni operations), Lee is basically saying he wants San Francisco taxpayers to bankroll free parking on Sundays.

Ninth Avenue in the Inner Sunset. Photo: Aaron Bialick
Ninth Avenue in the Inner Sunset. Photo: Aaron Bialick

“Announcing the cancellation of a successful parking management program, and the revenue it generates, dents the mayor’s credibility on transportation management and financing,” said Radulovich. “He can’t reasonably argue that Muni needs additional funding, but doesn’t need all the revenue it is currently receiving.”

Even accepting the argument that Muni doesn’t need this revenue, other purported goals of the mayor — like infrastructure for safe biking and walking — could definitely use it. “Ironically, the Mayor suggested ending the Sunday parking meter program because the revenue is not needed, while, at the same time, his team claims funding is not available to act more decisively for on-street safety improvements,” the SF Bicycle Coalition pointed out in a blog post today. “Where is the urgency? Where is the commitment to use the power of the mayor’s office to make the streets of San Francisco less deadly for our sons and daughters and grandparents and friends?”

Of course, revenue is not the main reason for parking meters — management of parking demand is, even if that fact is ignored by Mayor Lee and the media outlets that are reporting on his free parking campaign.

But the revenue does provide much-needed funds to improve Muni, walking, and biking. The ballot measures recommended by the mayor’s T2030 Task Force, which would boost general transportation funding with a general obligation bond, a sales tax increase, and a vehicle license fee increase, “are not to replace revenue streams, it’s to enhance and supplement them,” said Jason Henderson, author of “Street Fight: The Politics of Mobility in San Francisco,” who called Lee’s move a “cynical, political maneuver.”

“It’s genius, what Ed Lee’s done,” he said. “He’s daring a progressive to defend Sunday parking meters.”

As Radulovich noted, “This move demonstrates that SFMTA’s governance model, which was intended to protect against crass tampering with transportation decision-making by politicians seeking short-term political gain, isn’t working as it was supposed to.”

If Mayor Lee simply wanted to reduce the pain of parking tickets, there’s a much less damaging way to do it. The SFMTA’s widely-lauded SFpark program, and the expansion of meters that accept multiple forms of payment, have led to steep declines in citations. On Sundays, parking citations have already declined slowly but steadily throughout 2013 as drivers adjusted to the new system, according to the SFMTA report.

The repeal of Sunday parking meters would need approval by the SFMTA Board of Directors, which Mayor Lee appoints members to. Lee already has Tom Nolan, the board’s chair, on board. SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose told the SF Bay Guardian that the agency is “willing to partner with the mayor to address affordability.” Yes, the SFMTA is apparently considering abandoning its entire policy basis for parking management by re-framing free parking as an “affordability” issue. (It might work, if the added traffic and double parking makes SF a less desirable place to live.)

Of course, it’s no surprise that the SF Interfaith Council, which fought fiercely to keep parking free on Sundays on behalf of churches, are lauding the mayor’s push. An SFIC message sent to its members said it “reflects thoughtful appreciation for the broad, adverse impact of this policy.”

Mayor Lee is expected to elaborate on his position at his “State of the City” address tomorrow.

  • Muni riders constantly complain about shitty service and buses that break down: Silence from city hall.

    A few drivers complain about paying a couple bucks to park on Sundays: MAYOR LEE SWINGS INTO ACTION!

  • disqus_e4qPyvtwW2

    true dat

  • Mario Tanev

    Wow! Great link to SFMTA’s own analysis. It is an absolute travesty for the mayor to pursue this. He should use his leadership to educate city voters in why it IS a good policy. He could use this study to argue that SFMTA is effective in managing transportation in the city, given its constraints, and that it should be given more funding to do even more good for the city.

    In the end, the funding measures proposed by the task force are a must. And if this is the price to pay, so be it. But it is ridiculous to have the price be a lose-lose proposition. Nobody gains from this.

  • njudah

    It’s assuming a lot that said ballot measures will pass…given the latest wave of bad publicity, as well as the huge well of distrust the public has for the SFMTA management and City Hall, I’d not be surprised if they failed.

    Also not a shock – Ed Lee sucks. “He gets it done!” – for the few and the loud and the stupid, and the rich. Everyone else he could give a sh!t about.

  • njudah

    It’d be nice to think the Mayor is a leader, but he is just an order taker for Willie Brown and assorted cronies. He never gave a crap about muni or anything besides twitter tax breaks and America’s Cup. and yet he won the election anyways because he was cutie pie mustache man, and was the guy who “gets it done.”

    What a jerk. And he’ll get re-elected too.

  • Any business owner will tell you: the BEST customers are the ones who don’t even have 2 quarters to rub together.

  • thielges

    “Free parking” is the modern politician’s equivalent of “A chicken in every pot”.

  • MadlyBranning

    If his re-election were certain he wouldn’t be desperately pandering like this. The things you mention -Twitter, America’s Cup, 8 Washington – have generated a tidal wave of disgruntled voters who aren’t going to vote for him because he’s a cute little guy with a mustache. I think he’s in pretty serious political trouble. And free meters on Sunday isn’t going to change the perception that he’s a bought crony.

  • tanya*ayers

    Curious that this evaluation had to be leaked by Streetsblog over a month after it was finalized. Looks like the Eds were none too thrilled to have an objective analysis undercut their political maneuvering.

  • vcs

    They just need to figure out a way to get the meters under the purview of the Transit-Industrial Complex.

    Don’t worry though, because they’re working on it. Soon, the meters will be managed with same high level of competence expected of Muni.

  • Um… you’ve never heard of SFMTA, I take it?

  • bobster855

    I’m stunned by this. Basically, Lee has sent the signal that if you moan and whine enough, he’ll cave.

  • bobster855

    I don’t think Mayor Lee will be getting a chapter in the latest edition of “Profiles In Courage.”

  • jamiewhitaker

    Ed. Lee’s foolish move to eliminate Sunday meters means he wants San Francisco residents to subsidize free Parking and suck cancerous air pollution from cars of folks who do not live in SF. Well, I will be voting No, No, No on this Mayor’s revenue measures if he removes Sunday metering and expects transit riders to be stuffed like sardines in MUNI buses, giving each other the flu. Ridiculous. The $6 million per year from Sunday metering could help save pedestrians lives, but I guess his pedestrian safety talk is all disingenuous garbage. Boot Ed Lee in 2015! He is harming our community health with his nonsense and empty words.

  • jamiewhitaker

    Where is a online petition we can sign to ask Ed Lee to THINK Twice about removing Sunday metering? MoveOn petitions are the best … Dropping an email to recipients every time someone signs online.

  • gb52

    It’s too bad that there are so many people that just think “hey I can save my $2 an hour just like it used to be!”, but dont even think about how difficult it can be to find that elusive parking spot. I really think this would work best with SFpark. Specific rates for Sundays and limits for Sundays if necessary. But it really SHOULD be consistent, 7 day metering from 9am to 8pm. Also it would be easy to have a tiered citation with the first being slightly less than the what it is now and subsequent tickets becoming higher and higher. Thus the accidental offender will get a slap on the wrist whereas the habitual meter bleeder will realize they should just pay up!

    Prices based on demand JUST MAKE SENSE! If you’re really the one one parking there then you have nothing to worry about!

  • Publius

    Mayor Lee’s policy favors (some noisy) Christians who drive, and (some noisy) merchants who don’t want to pay to park in front of their own business, displacing their customers, who mainly shop by non-auto modes. And Lee’s budget math skills seem weaker then even Paul Ryan’s. Have we got the Republican-est mayor in the USA?

    Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, agnostics, Muni riders, people who get around on foot or by bike: pay full fare and keep waiting for your serving of Lee pander.

  • Jamison Wieser

    So the city provided free parking from 1947-2012, which comes to 65 years and if you multiply that by 52 weeks that come to 3380 days of free Muni service owed to us.

    Would that completely screw with Muni funding? So what? If mayor Lee doesn’t care then why should anyone else?


  • Jamison Wieser

    I believe it was in the book of Mathew where Jesus said to go out and spread the Good News, but only to car drivers.

  • What kind of leadership would I like to see from Mayor Lee right now? How about dealing with two huge crises the city faces *right now* that he seems happy to basically ignore: water supply and air quality. What I’d like to hear from him:

    1) A detailed program outlining how the city of San Francisco will reduce public water usage and encourage private water conservation. While San Francisco has done much via requiring low water usage toilets and low flow showerheads on new or remodeled construction, there is more that could be done. If this drought continues, we may need widescale adoption of private water cachement and grey-water systems.

    2) Introduce Clean Air Sundays.
    a) Remind San Franciscans they should not burn wood fires unless it has recently rained. Spare the Air days are a serious necessity for those who are asthmatic but seem to be largely ignored by many.
    b) Give incentives for homeowners/landlords with wood fireplaces to convert them to gas burning or high efficiency catalytic inserts that produce a twentieth of the particulate matter. Encourage other cities and towns in the Bay Area to do the same.
    c) Increase parking meter rates on Sunday and offer free Muni on Sundays instead. (Pricing of parking should be such that it is always cheaper for a pair of people to take transit to or within the city than drive.)
    d) Work with regional transit providers (BART, Caltrain, GG transit, AC transit and all ferries) to create a Sunday morning family rate, so that children under 17 accompanied by an adult can ride transit for free to and from the city on Sundays.
    e) Set up GG Park as a Sunday clean air zone. No cars at all east of Crossover Drive. (Underground parking garage could still be reached by Fulton.) West of Crossover, create a one-way loop linking JFK, Transverse Dr, and MLK to eliminate drivers using the park as a cut through. Install Sunday-only meters on most of this route. Install Sunday-only meters on the north side of Lincoln and the south side of Fulton along the entire stretch of GG Park. To help manage parking in this area, implement neighborhood parking permit zones with Sunday coverage for three blocks both north and south of the park. Strictly enforce on Sundays and during special events in the park. Reduce neighborhood parking demand by offering incentive to anyone in this zone to sell their little-used second or third car. ( i.e. anyone with a car registered to an address within three blocks of GG park who sells their car gets three free one year adult Muni passes.)
    f) Create Sunday morning clean air brunch and neighborhood shopping. Close down certain shopping district streets to through traffic from ten to one to make it extra safe, easy and pleasant for people in the neighborhood to bike and walk to local businesses. (Allow buses, residents on the block, and cross traffic only.) Candidates–Polk Street, Valencia Street, Chestnut Street, Mission Street, Irving Street, Clement Street, 24th street, Grant Street, etc.
    g) Do not allow diesel trucks of any kind to operate in the city on Sunday. This includes deliveries, construction, etc. (Unless an emergency or public health requires it for some reason.) Buses okay.

    3) Reduce diesel pollution in general
    a) Require food trucks to no longer idle an internal combustion engine while they operate. They must be powered via electricity while not actively in transit.
    b) Ticket all commercial diesel vehicles (including buses) that idle their engines longer than 1 minute.
    c) Over next five years, phase in plan to have all deliveries in SF occur by electric truck, electric bicycle or regular bicycle.

  • murphstahoe

    Free Parking. Let’s see – someone coming from the East Bay is out a $5 toll and $10 in gas, yet that $4 is going to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. This is a joke.

  • Jamison Wieser

    I am completely with you and just a wrote an email to my Supervisor (Scott Wiener) say so. That I will not support any measure if the Board and the Mayor offer more handouts to self-entitled, freeloading car owners (which isn’t all of them, just the selfish ones) in the propositions or continue undermining the SFMTA at the legislative level with behaviors like preventing expanded metering.

    We should all be writing to our supervisors and mayor letting them know we’ve had it with this. You suggested a MoveOn petition, but do those really work for local matters like this?

  • mikesonn

    Reminds me of the KTVU piece on parklets: interviewing a woman from Walnut Creek on Valencia complaining that she can’t find parking now. *face palm*

    EDIT: found the video

  • All pretty good points!

  • coolbabybookworm

    That’s a good point and one that Jason Henderson has made in the past, SF city leaders, both progressive supes and the conservative mayor, take transit riders for granted. I think Ed Lee may be pushing this too far and alienate enough of the complete streets voters to sabotage the revenue measures. I’m really doubting that he’ll be able to get voters to approve them.

  • voltairesmistress

    A confession: Sunday metering meant we actually did MORE car related household errands and purchases on Sundays, because we could do so efficiently, making a lot of quick stops at smaller stores, 20-30 minutes. Parking was a breeze, and we have not minded paying nominal sums with a SFPark prepaid card. Now, we won’t bother with the parking hassles on Sundays — lots of parked cars staying in place for hours or all day and night. That means less of our business for merchants in the Mission and other neighborhoods where parking can be tough and we are too far from the house to bike it/haul it home easily. Believe me, we are not going to switch to taking the slow bus; we will just reduce visits to certain commercial areas. In aggregate this is terrible economics for local businesses trying to maximize sales on Sundays.

  • Jamison Wieser

    Nobody gains by a comproimise measure purporting to support Muni while hurting it with giveaways to the most self-centered and selfish of drivers.

    I’ve had it with this kind of BS car-owner pandering and will lobby against a compromise measure. You aren’t helping if you are going to support an anti-transit measure. Even worse is to ask the rest of us to join in undermining the SFMTA by supporting an anti-transit, anti-business, anti-environment measure.

    It does not seem wise to me to alienate transit riders businesses by pushing an anti-transit measure. It will only make it more difficult next year or the year after to go back to voters with a measure that will fix Muni. It seems pretty simple to me: you’re not likely going to get the support of groups like ENUF anyway, so why loose my vote as well just to push their agenda?

  • Duane

    At what point does someone stand up to SFMTA/DPT/MUNI? The same agency that runs MUNI also runs parking meters, cabs, meter maids, ticket prices, etc, etc. And you wonder why SFMTA never has a balanced budget? They don’t need to. If this is not a conflict of interest I don’t know what is.

  • sebra leaves

    According to the Small Business Commission, the anti-parking campaign has not been good for business. As for the idea that you can run around the city at breakneck speed on Sunday running a lot of little errands efficiently, some of us prefer to have a relaxed Sunday, drive, park, and stroll around without any time constraints on our day off.

  • tanya_eggins

    Driving creates congestion, Muni relieves it. Not that complicated.

  • Upright Biker

    I’d be interested in any communications you’ve seen from the SBC that support that statement.

    I’m a small business owner, and I’m delighted to tell people coming to meet with me that they can “almost always find a parking place right in front” of my office.

    Before SFPark, I never would have said that. Instead I’d be saying “You’d better take a cab.”

  • voltairesmistress

    Sunday metering and all dynamically priced parking programs are pro-parking and helpful to drivers and businesses with customers who drive. Metered parking helps reduce congestion too by reducing circling and encouraging drivers to consolidate driving trips and choose other modes when practical. Lastly, one family’s errands does not get in the way of another person’s relaxed Sunday activities. What gets in your way of that relaxed drive, park, stroll is not being able to find a parking spot to start your day’s adventure, because every spot is filled with “free” parking. Nothing is free; just subsidized by somebody you can’t identify.

  • Upright Biker

    Just sent an email to Mayor Lee and my Supe, David Chiu, expressing my opinion.

    Would love a show of hands of those who have done the same. All talk and no action is not helping us build a livable city.

  • murphstahoe

    Don’t bother replying – Sebra Leaves is a bot.

  • Jamison Wieser

    It was the voters who created the SFMTA which boils down to the concept transportation can better be managed by a single agency with the ability to coordinate various services for maximum effect and benefit

    Its that last part that’s the problem. Just because different departments were merged doesn’t mean problems would be automatically solved. A lot of equipment and work is needed to make a go of it which has never been provide. Muni and traffic enforcement use different radio system which cannot be made compatible by the voters mandating it.

    Placing blame on the SFMTA for things beyond its control only distracts from those outside influences which have been undermining the SFMTA. It is the Board of Supervisors, not the SFMTA which approves the budget. If it bothers you the SFMTA can’t balance a budget, look to who makes the decision about that.

  • bobster855

    I was at the City Hall extravaganza last night and wrote a note to my supervisor, Janet Kim. I handed it to her personally and she thanked me.

  • Upright Biker

    Yes, but even the bots must be challenged or the misinformation they spread gains credibility.

  • Sent an email to Mayor Lee and Scott Wiener.

  • Sean

    This is a total slap in the face to the SFMTA staff. This news must be a facepalm bonanza for the team that put this together and collected the data that proved them right all along. I think Ed Lee is getting to Fox News level of absurdity with the affordability comment. Look at the data, not what you ‘believe’. And anyone who rides MUNI should be appalled that our own damn Mayor said it doesn’t need more money.

  • Sean

    Have a lovely drive for 45 minutes looking for a space.

  • gneiss

    Which Small Business Commission? The one in Walnut Creek?

  • Jim Frank

    SFTRU just created a petition against the reversal of Sunday metering. Transit riders shouldn’t have to sacrifice – both in degraded service and in the wallet – so that motorists can get free parking.

  • tungwaiyip

    Ed Lee is really getting on my nerve lately with his appeal to the whiners comments.

    Let’s demand him to read the damn SFMTA report can be quizzed on it.

  • Upright Biker

    Can you share a link?

  • tungwaiyip

    Thank you. Signed. Please spread the word. Sensible policy will be override by vocal whiners if we don’t speak out.

  • Those who must park for free can still do so (despite meters). Just go a few blocks over to a non-metered area. IT’S NOT THAT HARD.

  • jamiewhitaker

    Signed and shared with friends. Thank you!!

  • jamiewhitaker

    Thank you SFTRU for setting up an online petition!

    I like the online petitions best because they send an email for each and every signer of the petition to whatever recipients the petition author sets up. Not sure if. NationBuilder does that or not.

  • jamiewhitaker
  • jamiewhitaker

    petitions work great for local issues …. And MoveOn will send 1,000 San Francisco MoveOn members a link to your petition after 20 folks sign it. They set it up for local stuff. Check it out! I like it best because it shoots an email to the recipients you set up every time someone signs. 1,000+ emails from constituents gets attention! Look at Folsom Street bike lanes!


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