All Meters Now SFpark-Ready — More Demand-Based Parking Pricing to Come

Image: KPIX

The SFMTA recently upgraded all of SF’s 29,000 parking meters to “smart meters” that are enabled for demand-based price changes throughout the day, a la SFpark. Now, the SFMTA plans to expand its smart pricing program that has curbed car traffic to more existing meters.

“SFpark showed that demand-based pricing can improve parking availability without increasing double parking, congestion, or parking citations,” said SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose. “Our next challenge is to figure out the right mix of pricing and real-time information to make SFpark work in every neighborhood in the city. We’ll be working with stakeholders to find a win-win that creates less frustration, smarter travel choices, and fewer citations for every neighborhood.”

Under SFpark, the SFMTA has used “demand-responsive” pricing at about a quarter of the city’s meters since 2011. During a two-year pilot phase, the federally-funded program proved that by adjusting prices to demand, enough parking spaces could be made available to eliminate the need to circle for a spot.

Once the SFpark pilot phase ended, the in-ground sensors used to measure parking occupancy were shut down. But the SFMTA can still measure occupancy using the smart meters, albeit with slightly less accuracy, since they transmit payment data.

By all measures, SFpark successfully proved Professor Donald Shoup’s theory. At the meters included in the program, cruising for a spot was cut was cut by 30 percent, and meter-related parking tickets cut by 23 percent, according to the SFMTA’s report. Average on-street meter rates dropped by 4 percent, and double parking dropped 22 percent (compared to 5 percent in control areas).

Like the pre-existing SFpark meters, all of SF’s meters now accept credit cards and have digital displays. Those features, along with relaxed time limits, are aimed at easing the experience of paying for parking and reducing parking tickets. The SFMTA also recently placed stickers with simple explanations of tow-away hours on every applicable parking meter.

But the SFMTA has met with fierce political resistance over installing meters for demand-based pricing at spots that were formerly free. In 2013, the Board of Supervisors hamstrung the SFMTA’s ability to expand meters for five years. The agency also abandoned plans to expand SFpark into the Dogpatch and Potrero Hill neighborhoods, and watered down plans in the northeast Mission.

Residents who fought new meters initially said they didn’t trust SFpark’s dynamic pricing, fearing it would let the SFMTA raise meter rates (though the SFMTA doesn’t make money when rates are higher than demand). But even after the SFMTA removed the dynamic pricing feature from its proposed new meters, vocal neighbors continued to protest against paying for parking — period.

Expanding SFpark to existing meters shouldn’t be controversial. And as voters’ rejection of Proposition L showed, the majority of San Franciscans are not interested in enshrining free parking (or poorly-assessed meter rates, for that matter).

But when it comes to paying for parking, it apparently doesn’t take much set off the anti-meter crowd. The supervisors and the mayor, however, don’t have to let them dictate whether SF gets to manage parking with a cutting-edge program looked to by cities around the world.

  • jamiewhitaker

    When does the very sensible use of Sunday parking meter enforcement return ?

  • Mario Tanev

    If churches are the issue, at least institute evening meters in corridors like Valencia.

  • mx

    “And as voters’ rejection of Proposition L showed, the majority of San Franciscans are not interested in enshrining free parking (or poorly-assessed meter rates, for that matter).”

    While that’s true, a large number of San Franciscans have made it clear that they don’t want parking meters in front of their homes. With mixed-use areas scatted all over a very small city, it’s pretty much impossible to balance the desire to use meters efficiently in commercial districts without sticking them in residential areas.

  • yermom72

    Privatized bus lines, “surge pricing” for parking, what’s next? Why does San Francisco have to be the guinea pig for these neoliberal experiments?

  • murphstahoe

    e.g. I know this is a democracy but I don’t like the results so can we ignore that?

  • Golden Gate Shark

    the pandering to the fairy tale believers by the city is embarrassing .

  • @jdbig

    SF seems to be front in center in responding to the neoliberal experiment mandating private autos and free parking.

    Truly, ‘free’ parking and private autos are the neoliberal dream: privatize the benefits of public space, externalize the costs and make certain no one is safe in that public space unless they buy a car. Surge pricing for parking is a (reasonable) band aid: less double parking in bike lanes and slowing down muni.

    Private buses, despite elitism, are similar bandaids to systemic lack of public transit investment. Though the able-ism crap warrants a swift rebuke, private buses should be a part of the transport system until society decides to truly prioritize public transit.

  • mx

    Not really. People sent a message by rejecting Prop L. A great message and one I absolutely support. But that message was a general one about the role of cars in our city. When it comes to the specific decision to add new parking meters in front of people’s homes, it’s clear that there are a huge number of complaints from those impacted. That’s not inconsistent with rejecting Prop L.

    Besides, in SF, ignoring the results of a proposition is how we roll. How many times did we have to vote on the Central Freeway?

  • Patrick Devine

    I really wish they’d turn the sensors back on and show where free spaces are located. I don’t drive to the city very often, but it’s gotten to the point where it’s almost impossible again to find a free space.

  • baklazhan

    From what I recall, the sensors were battery-powered, and only had a lifespan of a couple years, so it would take more than flipping a switch to turn them on again.

  • djconnel

    Neoliberal? It seems like this represents embracing free market principles: the best parking to those willing to pay the most. The “liberal” approach would be to give the parking away, assuring the users span a specific distribution of income, race, and sex by having those who wish to park submit applications which are reviewed before allowing people to park. No — this is very much a conservative approach. The only thing more conservative would be to get rid of public parking completely and let parking garages meet the demand.

  • djconnel

    Don’t overestimate the “belief” aspect. I see little evidence of it. Church is more a social club than anything else.

  • yermom72

    That is exactly what “neo-liberal” means, embracing the idea of markets as the solution to social problems.

  • djconnel

    This isn’t a social problem, but a fundamentally economic one. It’s about minimizing the “shoe-leather” cost of finding parking, the value of time spent circling the block and the amplification effect this has in increasing congestion. It’s about assigning parking to the highest bidder. It is profoundly conservative, as are the corporate shuttles, BTW.

  • yermom72

    Feel free to look up “neo-liberal” any time to see what it means. It is not the opposite of “conservative,” as you seem to believe.

  • That was a dumb plan then. I thought the selling point was seeing occupancy on the app?

  • “But the SFMTA can still measure occupancy using the smart meters,
    albeit with slightly less accuracy, since they transmit payment data.”
    Perhaps this meter-data could be tapped to at least display which meters are ‘available’ because they haven’t been paid.

  • murphstahoe

    Nonetheless – parking is not a “social problem”, no matter how much the advocates of free parking try to frame parking meters as oppression of the huddled masses by an overreaching government.

  • djconnel

    Okay — point taken. Hard to keep straight what “liberal” means, “neo”, “classical”, or otherwise. But see Murph’s point.

  • yermom72

    Access IS a social problem. My point here isn’t to defend street parking (which dynamic metering doesn’t do away with, anyway), but to point out the danger of increasing and uncritical acceptance of people’s willingness (and ability!) to pay as a measure of public good.

  • murphstahoe

    WIndshield perspective – “Access = car + parking”

  • yermom72

    Don’t worry, next it will be the bus and Bart. And why not charge for bike parking?

  • murphstahoe

    Aside from the rational policy of subsidizing forms of access which have lower impacts on society….

    Car parking is more expensive to provide than bike parking, and should be priced accordingly.

  • I would be delighted to pay $1 an hour to park my bike if all cars had to pay $12 hour in the same neighborhood.

    If car drivers had to pay for the true costs of their driving (incorporating all health, societal and environmental externalities) we actually would need very little street parking because there would be so few people driving.

  • tungwaiyip

    Or make it 10 cents per hours for four hours max. Church goers or not, there is no logically reason to oppose this. At least this will prevent people taking the space all day. At the same time the meter can operate and captured data.

  • tungwaiyip

    Theoretically you can still see occupancy, albeit with less accuracy. This means that it cannot distinguish people parking with expired meter from actually free spot.

  • baklazhan

    I think the greater point was to adjust prices based on occupancy, and that after two years of adjustments, the prices would have stabilized at an appropriate amount. It was also an “experimental” program, funded by grants, and designed to be temporary.

  • baklazhan

    That, and people with handicapped placards, which are probably quite numerous.

  • baklazhan

    Heck, it would be a huge improvement if all cars had to pay even $1 per hour.

  • No it isn’t exactly what that means, unless you wrote the definition.

  • Backpedal. Backpedal. Backpedal.

    You should just ride a bike, for all the pedaling you’re doing.

  • Why not? Make the economic and social case, and we’ll all gladly feed the meters.

    Problem is, you can’t.

  • 42apples

    Yes but it’s not like the sensors were 100% accurate either. IMO it’s more important to have a general picture of how many open spaces are on each block. Especially considering that sensors are extremely expensive for the additional data.

  • 42apples

    So what do you think should be done instead? Ban private buses so even more people drive? Build more parking garages which are effectively subsidies for the rich? BTW, SF Park has worked exactly as intended-in fact, meter prices are on average LOWER than before.


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