The Parking Games: San Francisco Wants the Odds to be Ever in Your Favor

San Francisco’s new ambitious experiment (inspired by the theories of UCLA’s very own Donald Shoup, and based by the law of supply and demand), aims to ensure that there is always at least one empty parking spot available on every block that has meters. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, backed by a transit grant, is measuring the success of this new program with high-tech sensors that are embedded in the street that monitors which spots are available more often. The sensors are located in roughly a quarter of San Francisco’s 26,800 metered spots. With the aid of this technology, the city now raises the price of parking on the most crowded blocks, and lowers it on its emptiest blocks—and it is an ongoing process. Premium spots now cost $4.50 an hour and could reach $6 in the future. Less crowded blocks are much more affordable, accordingly. Prices have also been cut at many of the city-owned garages to encourage drivers to park off the street.
On a normally packed Drumm Street in the Financial District, the midday occupancy rate on the block fell from 98% to 86%. This gives the city exactly what it aimed for, as well as satisfies the rule of 85% occupancy, which is what Donald Shoup considers ideal in order to leave at least one or two spaces open per block. The city has a plan if parking drops below 80%—the prices will be lowered until the 85% goal is achieved yet again.
Jay Primus, who manages the program for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, considers the program a success, although it has only been recently implemented. He points out that this program is not designed just to increase revenue and ease the difficulty of parking, but to reduce traffic and pollution. The city has also aimed to increase revenue without distributing as many parking tickets. It has launched a new app that allows people to pay for parking from mobile phones. Consequently, parking has become more convenient to find and easier to pay for.
There is, of course, some criticism of the program. A patron of San Francisco’s parking meters was quoted as saying that the program could become “complicated on the social equity level.” Professor Shoup offers a different perspective: “The program would benefit many poor people,” he posits, “including the many San Franciscans who do not have cars, because all parking revenues are used for mass transit and any reduction in traffic will speed the buses many people here rely on.” In fact, it does seem that where the revenue goes is as integral to the program’s success as the revenue itself. The money made from parking meters in San Francisco stays in San Francisco, which turns into investments that improve its urban landscape.
Without expertise in this subject, I am still certain that this type of program would benefit Westwood Village, with its extremely dense layout, in a dramatic way. What do you think? Has anyone experienced San Francisco’s new program directly? We welcome all comments and/or questions!
More on this:
Follow Donald Shoup on Twitter:!/DonaldShoup
Program Aims to Make the Streets of San Francisco Easier to Park On:
Donald Shoup Takes On San Francisco:
Donald Shoup puts Parking in its Place:
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3 Responses to The Parking Games: San Francisco Wants the Odds to be Ever in Your Favor

  1. klugo1215 says:

    I’m not from San Francisco, but I’ve been studying transportation issues and I am curious what concerns businesses owners have raised about this program. Despite it being likely that vehicular customers are in the minority, business owners in the higher priced areas could see it as an inequitable setback to their business by discouraging customers from parking in these areas. Have such concerns been raised?

    • unexpubpol says:

      I’ve been able to find articles that say that SF business owners have vehemently opposed the new prices – but the program is too new to yield results that would confirm whether or not consumers are being driven away. However, while researching for this post, I read about this specific issue in Donald Shoup’s book “The High Cost of Free Parking”. There is a section in the book that compares the parking models of the city of Pasadena to the city of Westwood – that being, a comparison of Pasadena’s higher street parking prices and lower garage parking prices, versus Westwood’s lower priced street parking, one affordable garage, and many high-priced lots. By chance, I am from Pasadena, but live near and work in Westwood, so can say from experience that Pasadena’s parking is better by leaps and bounds (I use public transportation almost exclusively to get around on the Westside). Shoup’s wrote that a “parking study in 1994 found that the curb-space occupancy rate was 96% [in Westwood] during peak hours…Nevertheless, the city reduced meter rates from $1 to 50 cents an hour in response to merchants and property owners’ pleas that cheaper curb parking would stimulate business.” The reality, which has unfolded over the last 20 years, is that Westwood’s $1 per hour street parking has just translated to people fighting for spots, circling, creating a massive amount of pollution, and if a spot can’t be found, resorting to a high-priced lot or leaving altogether. Now, your question requires a much more nuanced answer than I can definitively give, but I hope this information helps. SF’s new program is not perfect by any means, but while it may seem counter-intuitive, it has a good chance of yielding better results than models like Westwood’s. It may also give people more incentive to prioritize their trips, use their cars more efficiently, and utilize public transportation. I highly recommend reading Shoup’s book if you are interested in transportation.

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