Skip to Navigation Skip to Content

SFpark: How We The People Can Influence Our Parking Future

Photo via James Cridland on Flickr.com

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.

Well, last week’s post about SFMTA raising the prices of parking meters in SF generated quite a few comments. I think that the comments embody representation of all sides of the issue. I want to thank everyone for writing. I find most of the comments on my posts from both sides to be quite thoughtful, which is far from what’s typical in comment sections. In this post I would like to continue the discussion about SFpark, distill the information further, try to come closer to an agreement on the issue, and then perhaps influence policy.
First, let me clear up some of the erroneous comments made, and then I’ll share some of the highlights from last week’s comment section.
 
"David, I'm fairly sure the concept behind SFpark is that the current rates at meters are dated and don't reflect the actual cost of maintaining the space. The deal with SFPark is that it's based on the idea that free/low-cost parking is a huge public subsidy."

Incorrect. Hourly parking meter rates have quadrupled since 1992. The meter rates in SF are the second highest in the land, and the fees and penalties for parking citations are the highest in the country.  Also, the revenue of the parking meters and the revenue from traffic citations are not only paying for themselves, but are also subsidizing MUNI.
 
"Another key piece of SFpark that isn't mentioned in the article is that the City is reducing the cost of garages."

Correct, it wasn’t mentioned because it is not true.  The spin is that garage prices “will be lower”, not lowered. If meter prices go up to $6 or $18 per hour, then yes, current garage prices will be lower even if they stay the same.  Meter rates vary from $2.00 per hour to $3.50 per hour, with the most expensive rates downtown, and the cheapest in the neighborhood commercial districts. The same is true for the 13,000 public garage spaces, in the 19 public garages (except General Hospital) - $2.00 per hour to $3.50 per hour. Private garages typically charge significantly more.

 
Last Week’s Greatest Hits from the Comments Section:
 
"This SFpark pricing program seems like hostage taking. Aren't there any consumer protection rules against that?"

"Poor people should not own cars."
 
"The meters and meter maids are not subsidized by anyone. The inefficiency of MUNI and the ridiculous salaries of the people that work (at SFMTA) are being subsidized by meter fees and parking tickets. The average yearly salary of a MUNI bus driver is well over $100,000, and there are over 150 office workers at SFMTA making well over $100,000 per year. So, let's all be clear about who is paying for what."

"One more step towards a poorer quality of life…this is nothing but a regressive tax."
 
"San Francisco loves to invent new ways to steal even more of your money. SFpark is just going to ensure that only the rich will be able to have a car. Get used to walking, commoners (it's quicker than waiting for MUNI)."
 
"My wife got laid off two years ago and we feel the pinch, so YES parking prices matter to us! We'd love to take a train or bus if it made sense, but right now we'd need to wait for three different buses and spend two and a half hours each way."

"People saying that it's actually a plausible idea to deposit 72 quarters into a public parking meter for one hour so we can subsidize MUNI's ridiculous salaries and incredible inefficiency is just laughable. I don't even have a car, but this is making me sick. Enough is friggin' enough."
 
"Okay, it's great that we have a story like this posted and that it stands against what SFpark is doing, but what I would like to know is how we stop it."
 
"WHAT CAN WE DO TO STOP THIS?"
 
I don’t think that anyone is against the technological features of SFpark. Far from it. I think SFpark is an amazing system with huge potential. To be the first to test such a technological system is a rare opportunity. I believe that if SFMTA and San Francisco truly want to learn from it, and help teach the world, it would be prudent to see how the technology of SFpark works on its own without tinkering with the pricing model.  Prices can always be raised later.

If we implement the technology and simultaneously raise the prices of meters, then we will never know the true effect of either, and that is not good science.  I hope that SFMTA’s thinking is not: If traffic and congestion are reduced without our raising meter prices, then the opportunity to raise meter fees with a plausible argument backing the decision is lost. If that's the case, then I am very disappointed. If SFMTA simply didn't think it through and missed the logic of separately testing the different parts of SFpark, then there is still an opportunity to earn the people's trust, and avoid a very costly mistake. If anyone disagrees with my thinking or thinks that I'm off base, I'm wide open to hear a logical explanation as to why.
 
So, back to Jessica’s and Ms. A’s comments, “What can we do to stop this?”  
 
I’ll end with my favorite comment made by Stella: “I applaud a lesson in civics when a mind questions the validity of changes imposed upon us. History is riddled with sad episodes carried out under the benign title of a beneficial program - under false pretense of concern and slippery semantics. I think it's great to be vigilant and read between the lines. People with questioning minds are the gatekeepers of democracy!”
 
Once again, your thoughtful comments are very much appreciated and encouraged, as I believe public opinion will make or break this plan.