How SF’s Residential Parking Permit Prices Favor Car Owners

Residential parking permits in San Francisco are a steal. At just $110 a year, or about 30 cents a day, the costs come nowhere near the market value for use of prime SF real estate. The fee is especially favorable compared to the single-day permit rate, which is 40 times higher. That means people who only occasionally need to park a car in their neighborhood pay a lot more per hour than people who take up street space every day for personal car storage.

Photo: Aaron Bialick

Parking permits may be a small step toward regulating the free-for-all parking situation that reigns on 90 percent of SF’s streets. But even under the current permit fee system, year-round car storage remains severely underpriced, amounting to a vast subsidy that leads car owners to fill up every inch of available curb space. More traffic, double-parking, and slower transit are the inevitable results.

The discrepancy between short-term permits and annual permits was recently noted by Michael Smithwick, who lives in the proposed RPP Area Q, expected to be approved by the SFMTA soon.

Smithwick said the price hike for short-term parking permits “unfairly discriminates against non-car-owning residents,” which is “at least half of the households in the proposed area.”

The discrepancy “is in conflict with SFMTA’s own policies to reduce car trips in favor of other sustainable transit modes,” Smithwick said, noting that non-car-owners can occasionally find permits useful when they rent a car or have visitors.

Even the lowest available rate of $8/day for a book of 20 parking permits is 27 times higher than the annual rate, and a maximum of 20 permits per year can be purchased at that rate.

“Because the market prices for parking in San Francisco are so high, free and cheap parking in the city’s 475,000 on-street spaces (which amount to a total length greater than California’s coastline) are probably the biggest subsidy the city provides for its citizens,” said UCLA professor and parking policy guru Donald Shoup. “A city’s budget should reflect its policies, and free parking on so much city land suggests a car-first policy.”

Under current law, meters are the only way the city can put a better price on curb parking. State law limits the price of residential parking permits to the cost of administering the program, preventing rates from reflecting the true market value.

SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose said that the one-day rate is so much higher than the annual rate because the staffing costs are higher on a per-permit basis. The $12 daily rate for a visitor permit, he acknowledged, “is much closer to market rate cost for parking all day.”

“We definitely do want to evolve the RPP program so it reflects the changing reality of how San Franciscans and visitors live and work, including the changing nature of car ownership,” said Rose. “We are doing so by trying to offer more options for visitors to obtain permits/purchase parking as needed. We are also working to make sure all users can make use of that parking supply occasionally, even if they don’t own a car. As a Transit-First city and forward-looking agency, we do want to support car-free and car-light households. The best way we can do that is by ensuring occasional drivers can access and pay for parking when needed.”

While the SFMTA’s hands are tied when it comes to parking permit rates, the agency has taken some other steps to cap household consumption of curb space. It recently limited the number of parking permits to four per household. Within any given RPP zone, however, there is no neighborhood-wide cap on permits, so the number of “hunting licenses” doled out may far exceed the actual number of parking spaces in the zone.

The agency is also expanding other programs to reduce demand for parking and encourage turnover, such as SFpark’s demand-based parking pricing at some meters as well as on-street car-share.

“Non-car owners have legitimate needs for curbside parking near their homes,” said Smithwick, “and deserve the same access as car owners.”

  • EastBayer

    This is a seriously big deal to me as a non-car-owner who rents frequently. The city I live in has similar issues that make it very expensive and impractical to store a rental car for short duration in your neighborhood if you happen to live in an RPP area.

    Expensive as they are in SF, at least you can get up to 20…it seems like as a resident of a neighborhood you should be eligible for a permit that can be used for any vehicle. Where is the gap in my logic?

  • phoca2004

    Four permits per household seems excessive. Are there any figures that would account how many such four or even three permit households there are in SF? How would these numbers compare with the numbers of issued handicapped placards against a normative population where such permits don’t get one free parking?

    Are policies around number subject to state regulation the same as mandated cost? Is there political will to take on changing the cost scheme for RPPs?

  • Easy

    I wouldn’t say their hands are tied. The city frequently asks Sacramento to pass legislation to allow things it wants, such as transit lane enforcement cameras on buses. But it has to start with the SFMTA actually wanting to end the car-promoting subsidy of underpriced parking.

  • salsaman

    SFMTA should:
    1) Double the permit over three years. Then double it again. It will still be cheap, and staggered increases mean people have time to adjust their habits if it’s too expensive.
    2) Limit the number of permits to three per household, but maximum one per PERSON. Currently, nothing prevents somebody from permitting four old vans and using them for storage.
    3) Enforce the 72-hour street parking maximum. That would ensure that people who need the vehicles are actually using them. Unfortunately parking enforcement seems mostly concerned with meters and street cleaning, ignoring double-parking, sidewalk parking, 72-hour parking, etc.

  • Greg Costikyan

    As a (non-car owner) I think I disagree. Residential parking permits serve several useful purposes: They impose -some- cost on parking, even if it is far below market. They are often popular with local residents, because they make it more difficult for non-residents to park locally. By doing so, they free up some parking spaces, meaning others wander about looking for parking less. And they provide locals with an incentive to support further restrictions on parking by non-residents.

    You can certainly argue that the price ought to be increased closer to what the market will bear; but on the whole, the existence of resident parking permits is preferable to their non-existence.

    (I used to live in the area near Alamo Square that will be covered by ‘area Q’ — and I think its implementation is a good thing. Not that it would have been material to me, as I commuted by bicycle.)

  • crazyvag

    How about we peg the price of parking permit to that of a muni pass? $68 for monthly parking a steal compared to the $300 going rate at parking garages.

  • Martijn

    In Amsterdam the max is 1 permit per household, if that is not working for a household they will have to rent a expensive spot in a garage or move out of the city.

    I think the 72 hour rule and street cleaning are creating a lot of car usage. Frequently i hear my coworkers who normaly walk or bike say they came by car because they had to move it. A parked car is better than a moving car that is going to circle the blocks looking for parking two extra times that day and takes up parking space most of the day anyway. Moving a car is not lowering the space it needs.

  • guest

    The residential parking permits could cost a lot more. My street in Area I is restricted to 1 hour parking. I buy a permit for my car, to use when I want to put a visitor in my garage. But many of my visitor’s cars don’t easily fit in my garage. If I could buy a daily pass via an app or online, I would. $12/day seems OK to me. I would also buy a pass when I go to visit my kid in the soon-to be Area Q.

    I currently see people moving their cars a few inches, or erasing the chalk mark on the back tire, to avoid tickets. I also see people who ONLY use their cars when they move them on street sweeping day. That is not good pollution wise.

    There could be subsidized residential permits for those who can’t afford to pay.

    The process should be no more annoying than waiting in line at the kiosk in the Powell Street station, to show papers proving you are a senior for a reduced rate Clipper Card.

  • jd_x

    Don’t think that’s usually the case. If driving to work was really something they didn’t want to do, they would just move their car in the morning or after work (or on the weekend). It makes absolutely no sense to drive all the way to work when it would be much easier to just move your car. Your co-workers are trying to make excuses for driving when they know they really shouldn’t be, and that is not something that should be guiding policy.

  • Dave Moore

    It seems like a system could be devised where
    – All (or at least more) spots are metered
    – Meters can take credit cards or Clipper or phones by NFC. Fastrak could be used so you could just park and walk away.
    – Meters in the neighborhoods have different properties than those downtown or near commercial areas. The ones in the neighborhoods are geared towards longer term parking, so you can park at them for up to 72 hours.
    – You be auto charged for your spot (instead of having to guess how long you were going to be there).
    – Residents can buy the right to park at meters near them for a lower monthly rate than non residents. That program would be stored on their Clipper account.
    – The existing 72 hour limit could be enforced for everyone.
    – Parkers could be notified of impending problems (72 hour limit, street cleaning).

    The cost of the monthly pass would be a big sticking point. It would probably vary neighborhood by neighborhood. You’d want it to be more expensive where there was high demand, much in the way SFPark does things. Same thing for the hourly rates. The monthly one could be repriced far less frequently.

  • Charles_Siegel

    “State law limits the price of residential parking permits to the cost of administering the program”

    Does the law require that each element of the program cover its own costs, so the price of single-day permits must cover the higher administrative cost of issuing single-day permits?

    I doubt it. I expect that all the revenues from the program must cover all the costs of the program.

    If so, they can lower the price of single-day permits and raise the cost of yearly permits a bit, to eliminate discrimination against those who buy single-day permits.

  • crazyvag

    They could rent out a really expensive office with high wages paid to few people to jack up the “administrative costs”…

  • NoeValleyJim

    Yes this is a good solution for parking woes. I would add in that poor people get subsidized on a sliding scale.

  • SF Guest

    What makes you think that hasn’t already happened?

  • SF Guest

    Doesn’t anyone else recall the RPP was a ballot measure with an annual fee of $10 or less passed by the voters way before the SFMTA was created? There wasn’t all this impertinent discussion about how much a parking space is worth. That is an entirely different topic.

    ““We definitely do want to evolve the RPP program so it reflects the changing reality of how San Franciscans and visitors live and work, including the changing nature of car ownership,” said Rose.”

    The objective behind the program was to prevent non-SF commuters from driving into the city and parking in residential neighborhoods for free during business hours. That’s what voters approved and passed (I voted No).

    Using my perspective of the RPP’s intended goal no one would disagree non-SF commuters should not be allowed to park in SF residential neighborhoods for extended periods during regular business hours.

    Anyone’s opinion on how much those parking spaces are worth or how much the City can gain by converting them into a different function is irrelevant to the RPP’s intended goal or its implementation which is to prevent SF residential parking spaces from being hoarded by outsiders.

    Murph, BTW, we both know the SFMTA would charge market rates to implement the RPP if not for the state law which limits their fees to the cost of administering the program.

  • SF Guest

    The SFMTA does enforce the 72-hour parking rule but mainly rely on residents to report it.

  • Dave Moore

    What they can do is when a resident reports a car they can tag it then, and then see if it’s still there in 3 days. But of course a resident is unlikely to do this before he noticed it was there for a long time, probably like 3 days. So it’s not much more effective than weekly street cleaning, which has become the defacto limit.

  • SF Guest

    Be aware not all residential neighborhoods have street cleaning, and these are the same neighborhoods where a car is likely to not move for weeks and even months so it’s extremely effective in these cases where a car owner thinks he/she has secured a long-term permanent parking space. SFMTA will come and tow it after giving a 72-hour warning.

  • Dave Moore

    Which is why the cost of the RPP program is irrelevant to this discussion. It’s like Aaron’s continued quoting of “475,000 on-street spaces (which amount to a total length greater than California’s coastline)”. It may be true but it provides little insight into the matter at hand.

  • jd_x

    Why is price a separate issue? Price is just one part of deciding whether or not to implement a permit program. Do you think residents would be as inclined to support an RPP zone in their neighborhood if it cost $10,000/yr? And how would that answer change if it was $10/yr? You can bet you would get very different levels of support. So the price is something you can’t just include from the discussion.

  • Golden Gate Shark

    I wish we had permits in my neighborhood. Everyday is Carmageddon. houses with 10 people living in them and all having cars. It is crazy.

  • sebra leaves

    Who should parking permits favor if not SF residents who own cars? Make up your mind. Do you want people to drive their cars or not? By having RPP a resident has a choice on whether to drive every day or only occasionally. RPP is necessary for SF residents who want to walk and bike or take public transit, otherwise, they have to drive their car every day just to re-park it.

  • sebra leaves

    This was already suggested turned down by the SFMTA, presumably for legal reasons. Go fix a problem that needs fixing. Like, why can’t the folks who want more service, such as the people in Bay View and Hunter’s point who want to extend the service of the T-Line, get more service and the folks who want to be left alone be left alone. Why does the SFMTA insist on spending money on programs the neighborhoods object to instead of spending money where neighborhoods want them to? SFMTA spends millions of dollars on consultants who do not represent the people, and refuse to listen to free advise. Is this because free advise if worthless?

  • Someone living in the area should put a petition together to get an RPP.

  • Because parking isn’t a problem?

  • Pretend you have a car and a place to live and a job that is a bit away from your place to live and a street-cleaning time on your street in your RPP that is during business hours when you need to be at your job. You could move your car out of the street-cleaning zone to some other street, but depending on schedules, finding that parking may be difficult. Or you may take the car somewhere, even somewhere you maybe don’t usually, because you know you’ll be able to find parking more easily when you return, such as after work.

    There’s a lot of stories about people in NYC who work from home on street-cleaning days so they can move the car, and I’ve seen it happening in the Noe Valley area, where a lot of one side of the street suddenly appears to park on the sidewalk while street-cleaning comes by.

  • Enforcement also seems targeted towards the poor. Old, shabby vehicles are more likely to be suspected as “abandoned” than shiny new ones. I’ve seen PCOs show up for this or other reported offenses and demur when they saw a BMW or Mercedes.

  • They don’t tag it, they read the odometer. Then they come back after 72hrs and see whether the odometer has moved any.

  • murphstahoe

    The streets in the Excelsior take this to amusing levels, the drivers move their car onto the sidewalk, the driver waves to the street cleaner as it goes by, then moves the car back onto the street.

  • murphstahoe

    Doesn’t anyone else recall the RPP was a ballot measure with an annual
    fee of $10 or less passed by the voters way before the SFMTA was

    No. Only carpetbaggers allowed on Streetsblog. What are you doing here, interloper?

  • SF_Abe

    “Who should parking permits favor if not SF residents who own cars?”

    How about all SF residents, period?

  • sebra leaves

    That would allow too much freedom to drive for the citizens of San Francisco. I wouldn’t complain, but that is not how the system works now. You would have to re-write the RPP rules. Considering the last time the rules were re-written, you might not like the results. See the evidence on what happens when the SFMTA merely”simplifies” the rules:

  • murphstahoe

    “Who should parking permits favor if not SF residents who own cars?”

    Twitter employees from outside SF. They pay the most taxes.

  • SF_Abe

    I think you misunderstood my comment. I think that permit policy should favor all San Franciscans (as all public policy should)– not just those with cars. Ya know, the whole “general welfare” thing.

    If that were to happen, I don’t think the result would be more “freedom” to drive.

  • Dave Moore

    What about cars that need to be on to have the odometer read?

  • Hmm, not sure. In my experience they have generally enforced this against old cars and leave the new ones alone, but I presume they have to have an alternate method.

  • Sprague

    Good points. Given the SFMTA’s recent track record (with the elimination of Sunday meter enforcement), it’s unlikely they have any desire to move away from free or seriously underpriced parking.

  • worm

    nothing more annoying than bicyclists that try to create economics to punish drivers. the same people are otherwise always looking for ways to break out of capitalism into a gentler more fair system. and this economic brilliance plays right into the hands of our government pigs at the trough.

    look guys, cars are useful and don’t wreck everything. i ride to work everyday but i its really difficult to travel longer distances without a car. especially if i need to transport something, so i have a 15 year old car that i use. i’m going to visit my elderly mother tonight, its 50 miles away.

    try to find ways to make cycling safer and more pleasant. it can be done without hatin’ on your fellow man who just needs a place to park his car. most of the trouble we have today can be traced back to “density” – a scheme to enrich property owners while the little people fight it out over a few square feet of asphalt.

  • 94103er

    most of the trouble we have today can be traced back to “density”

    Most of the trouble we have today can be traced back to older times when we didn’t plan for urban density and foolishly designed the city around the car.


  • SF Sunset Guy

    so the subsidized residential permits to to people who “can’t afford to pay” but can afford to own, maintain, fuel and presumably insure a vehicle in the most expensive city in the country. That, and rent or buy here?


  • SF Sunset Guy

    but I’ve heard that Amsterdam has excellent public transportation.

  • Duane

    Residential Parking was created for neighborhoods that were next door to commercial districts to help those with cars find parking. Now Residential Parking is just one more way for SFMTA/DPT to make money off the public and line their pockets and provide nice fat pension checks for the Golden Years. The fact that the same agency which manages the buses also manages parking and tickets should reek of conflict of interest more than a back ally in Chinatown. SF now has the most expensive parking tickets of any city in the USA. This has nothing to do with bikes and pedestrians and all to do with corruption and greed.

  • GStorm

    It’s also a violation of the city charter and recommedations the city paid for in a recent study. Half of citizens on each street have to petition for their block to be included. That didn’t happen.

  • GStorm

    Those people live here. They aren’t as whiny rich as you though.

  • GStorm

    Why is it rich people just have this thing in their DNA to put up fences to keep the poor out?

  • It doesn’t matter what their socio-economic status is–there is a certain limit to the number of cars you can fit in a given area. The poor don’t always/often have cars.

  • Mister__Sister

    That’s true. I’ve done it myself. 🙂

  • Pascual Arrechea

    Period? Really? Once you realize your claim makes no sense, you intend to silence people who don’t agree with this absurd. Come on, man! Review your claim and acknowledge when you are just whining for no reason except your own frustration. And accept peoples opinion once in a while!!

  • SF_Abe


  • Jada Barnhouse

    Practical comments – Apropos , if your company has been looking for a DoJ Form FD-258 , my kids saw a template version here


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