Thursday, December 18, 2014

Parking in San Francisco

There seems to be a lot of confusion here in Philadelphia about the San Francisco parking program known as SFpark.  The program has a website,, and I've done some reading.  Here's a synopsis.

The essence of the plan is variable pricing.  This seems to make a lot of people nervous, but the San Francisco program clearly shows that it works well in practice.

Why bother to shift from fixed meter prices to variable meter prices?  Well, San Francisco was choking on its cars.  The magic number here is 85 percent occupancy at the curb.  More than that, people can't find spots conveniently.  Less than that, you're wasting valuable real estate.

The supply of curb-side parking is essentially fixed, so if we want to manage the situation, we need to manage demand.  If a lot of people want to park, the price should be higher.  If few people want to park, the price should be lower. 

SFpark got its official start on November 18, 2008, when the board of directors of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency adopted a resolution enabling the SFpark program.  It was explicitly based on the ideas of Professor Donald Shoup, author of The High Cost of Free Parking, and it benefited from a $19.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Urban Partnership Program.

In July 2010 smart meter installation began, followed shortly by the hockey-puck sensors that everyone loved so much.  These were magnetometers installed in the pavement of each parking space in the project, and they were chatty.  Not only would they tell mission control whether the space was full or empty, they would tell any driver who had downloaded the app onto a smart phone.

In April 2010, the SFpark pilot project was formally launched.  It covered 6,000 metered spaces in seven parts of the city -- a quarter of the city's metered spaces, along with 12,250 spaces in garages run by the SFMTA. 

The pilot project ended on June 30, 2013, and in June 2014 a number of reports were issued evaluating the project.  All of this material is available on  I freely confess that there are documents on this site that I have not opened, let alone read.  It's a very rich site.

Today the SFpark program continues in eight neighborhoods.  The hockey-puck sensors were turned off, as nearly as I can tell, at the end of 2013, thereby infuriating drivers who had been using the app to locate empty spots in real time.

It's also my understanding that, while prices in the variable price areas go up and down during the day, the schedule of prices doesn't change very often, and when it does there is extensive public notice.  (And the app is still able to give you the prices -- just not the vacancies.)

The evaluation found that SFpark improved parking availability, reduced parking citations, cut greenhouse emissions, decreased peak period congestion, decreased traffic volume overall, lowered traffic speed, decreased vehicle miles traveled, decreased double parking, increased transit speed (that would be buses), and increased the safety of the streets (fewer crashes).

Seems like something that Philadelphia should be looking into.

1 comment:

  1. I live in San Francisco, & I like SF Park. It's much easier to do errands now. Almost all our meters take credit cards, and that is another plus. Lots of people have cars they don't use, which they keep parked on the street, moving them only for weekly street sweeping.