Skip to Navigation Skip to Content

Parking Dilemma: Deep Skepticism About SFpark's Elitist Parking Meter Plans

Image by David LaBua

I was checking out the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s SFpark website today, and I actually laughed out loud to myself…twice. On the SFpark facts page, they ask themselves questions, and then answer them. My first chuckle came after simply reading the first question they asked themselves:

Is SFpark a way for the City to raise revenue?
 
The second laugh came after the first word of their response:
 
“No. The primary goal of SFpark is to create easier parking by improving availability. Hourly parking rates may increase in high-demand areas and at high-demand times but rates will also decrease in low-demand areas and times.”

They continued the question-and-answer session with themselves and I continued to chuckle as they began to dodge their own questions and further spin their answers.

If the goal is turnover, why relax time limits?

“At most SFpark meters, time limits for regular parking will be four hours; some meters will have no time limits at all…. No restaurant wants customers to skip dessert or coffee because of a parking time limit.”

That’s very generous, but I become skeptical when the SFMTA begins caring whether or not I’ve topped off my meal with cake and espresso. My skepticism deepened when I checked with my restaurant friends, and they informed me that the typical turn time allotted per table at lunch is one and a half hours, and two hours at dinner (which is after 6pm and most meters are no longer in effect anyway).  Their answer also contradicts their response to their first question above (about the program creating parking availability).

Exactly how does a four hour limit or unlimited meter “create easier parking by increasing availability”? Yes, most restaurants want you to order dessert and coffee.  However, I don’t think that they or any business wants you to park in front of their establishment for 4 to 72 hours.

I also chuckled at this one because they dodged the first part of the question that they asked themselves - about turnover being the goal.  I interpret the omission to mean that turnover no longer is the goal.  Which leads me to ask a follow-up question and to infer the SFMTA’s answer:

If turnover of parking meters is not the goal, then what is the goal?

“The goal of having parking meters and raising the rates to as much as 6 dollars per hour (18 dollars per hour for special events) is to create easier parking by improving availability.  If by raising the price of meters by 500 percent per hour happens to create more revenue for us, and helps us to close our $43.2 million budget deficit, then that is just a lucky coincidence.”
 
The public responses that I have read from people outside the City when asked about these major potential increases in meter fees have overwhelmingly been negative and will most likely result in their coming into SF much less often to spend their money.  Restaurants won’t have to worry about not selling customers from across the bridges dessert and coffee, because they won’t be selling them appetizers or a main course either.
 
Starting late next month, SFpark will move into the critical next stage, when the meter rates will be adjusted based on demand: the lower the availability, the higher the price. The hourly rate – which may differ block by block – could climb up to $6 in the next 5 months, and as high as $18 for special events. The price will rise or fall by no more than 50 cent increments.

SFpark’s stated goal and method is to “raise meter prices until there is one available parking space per block.” With 505,733 vehicles in SF and 320,000 street parking spaces, that is going to be a difficult goal to achieve unless the price of parking at a public meter becomes exorbitant. Donald Shoup, a UCLA professor of urban planning who advised the City on the SFpark project, said,  “People will get used to the idea that it’s fair that the very best spaces cost more.”

I don’t think that people will get used to the idea that it’s fair, because it’s not.  If a private parking garage owner wants to charge $18 per hour, or $100 per hour for that matter, that’s fine. But the streets are public, and to charge up to $18 per hour for a public parking spot is not only absurd, but also elitist.

Parking is one of the last places where it is first come, first served, and everyone is equal. Whether you drive an $80,000 car, an $800 car, or a scooter, you have an equal chance.  If these increases happen, the haves and the have-mores will get the great public spots, and the waitress with two children will have to walk 7 blocks in the rain because she can’t possibly afford $48-$144 per day for a parking spot.
 
Why stop there? How about preferred VIP seating on the grass in Golden Gate Park?  $5 to sit on a public bench. Why not charge $18 to use a public restroom, and then there will be less demand and more availability.   How about charging $300 for making a call to the fire station, or police station, and then we can raise revenue, cut back on demand and increase profits and salaries in these departments as well. 
 
Public opinion actually matters here and will ultimately decide the fate of the SFpark demand based pricing model, so feel free to comment below.
 
If you’d like your own copy of the SF parking handbook click here.