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A Breakdown Of SFMTA's Newest Texting-Based Solution for Parking Nightmares

Photo from the LA Public Library Archives

It's no secret that parking in the city is a bitch. So we've enlisted local parking guru and author of  Finding the Sweet Spot, David LaBua, to dish out weekly tips on navigating the ins and outs of city parking.

As we all know, the SFMTA implemented its SFpark demand-responsive pricing on the streets. With all of SFpark's pros and cons not yet resolved, it now has implemented the demand-responsive pricing model in eight city-owned SFpark garages, with six more planned for the coming months. Since the SFpark approach is based on parking occupancy, some city-owned garages that are underutilized will see rates go down, and some will see rates go up. The Fifth & Mission Garage rates fell from $3.50 to $3 per hour before noon and after 6 pm. Rates in these SFpark garages vary by time of day and are adjusted quarterly based on occupancy.
 
Yesterday, the SFMTA launched their latest effort to get you a driving while distracted ticket: A text message service for SFpark garages. Customers can receive parking availability and pricing information for the 14 SFpark garages (see list below), along with garage locations and hours of operation. To get started, customers can text "SFpark" to 877-877.  When you text the code for a particular garage, it'll send you the info.

I checked it out.  It is fairly easy to use with the list of the codes above, takes about 30 seconds to deliver the info, and the info is up to date and accurate.  I really want to like it and tell you that it's fantastic.  But, I'm not sure that an SMS text messaging system is going to be all that useful when I'm looking for parking. First, I am going to have to remember the text codes for all of the garages. I can assure you that that's not going to happen. Second, I'm going to have to read the texted info (which consists of four segmented and unevenly formatted texts of information per garage) while in traffic.  As much of a multi-tasker as I am, I don't see myself using it while driving, nor do I particularly want my fellow drivers trying to do it either. It just doesn't seem practical.
 
What has always seemed logical for all garages not just city owned garages is having a simple uniform pricing system that is well displayed and easily decipherable for the driver at the entrance to the garage. SFMTA says that that's exactly what they're going to do. The old pricing system and signage has up to 22 different rate types and variables to decipher.  The new system essentially breaks it down by 3 hour periods so you can easily see how much it will cost you. Garages in SFpark pilot areas will reduce the number of rate types, and reduce the number of rate types that are posted on the entry sign, in order to reduce confusion and make it easier to design and update effective signage that quickly and clearly communicates rates.

The info is also available when you click on a "P" icon using the SFpark app, which you can check out by clicking here.
 
A few special discount rate types that will be kept in effect–many people do not know about them–are student rates, juror rates, motorcycle rates, monthly rates, and carpool rates. Motorcycles will be charged a flat daily rate that is up to 80% off the daily maximum rate charged to cars. The rationale for offering this discount is that, in garages, one car space can accommodate three to five motorcycles.
 
Another example of SFMTA learning to attract the bees with honey and not with fines and threats of towing is: Hourly customers in city-owned garages will be charged in 30-minute increments rather than 60-minute increments.  Most privately-operated garages charge customers in 60-minute increments (a customer who parks for two hours and one minute is charged for three hours), meaning that customers sometimes pay for substantial amounts of time they do not use in the garage. It aims to increase customer satisfaction and encourage people to park in municipal parking garages. It's a small thing, but also a very honest and fair gesture.
 
For more details about this program or for info regarding every other topic under the sun related to parking, click here