San Francisco Moves to ‘Smart’ Parking Meters, Congestion Pricing

Published September 13, 2010

San Francisco officials hope to ease parking congestion and raise revenue by installing 5,000 “smart” parking meters with the ability to accept payments from debit cards, credit cards, parking cards, and coins.

These meters also have the ability to monitor parking space availability so a person can check ahead for free spaces.

And starting next year,  prices will fluctuate during times of heavier parking demand to reflect the number of parking spaces available, under a concept called congestion pricing. Prices will range between two dollars and six dollars an hour when demand is high.
Samuel Staley, director of urban growth and land use policy for the Reason Foundation in Los Angeles, calls congestion pricing an “innovative” plan.

Reducing Traffic Density
“It actually makes sense in San Francisco because, given the traffic densities in the city, there’s a real question about how you manage traffic,” Staley said. He predicts residents will experience less traffic congestion with variable parking prices.

“Residents will benefit because there won’t be as many cars just clogging the streets,” said Staley.

Staley said he views reducing the number of cars on the streets as only a “happy by-product” of an efficient parking system, not the reason for it. “I think the goal should be using pricing to optimize the use of the parking,” he said.

Trial Results Encouraging
Paul Rose, media relations manager for San Francisco’s Municipal Transportation Agency, said the city conducted a trial program before committing to the smart parking meters. Community response indicated citizens and business owners “preferred having a smart meter because it makes it easier to park, and they liked the idea of understanding where available parking was, because they feel that more people would be able to travel into the city and know that they could find parking,” he said.

Staley pointed out officials hope the congestion pricing will induce more use of public transit, but he said he doubts that will happen. He also said he thinks the new system could reduce business activity.

Concern for Businesses
“I think most of those trips on the margin—those incremental trips that are going to be stopped because of higher prices for parking—are not going to be made at all. So I think there is a very real concern that needs to be addressed for businesses,” he said.

“I think a lot of people don’t recognize the degree to which businesses, even in San Francisco, rely on people from outside the neighborhood to patronize their shops,” he said.

The federally funded program to replace old meters with smart meters has been allotted $24 million. Meters are scheduled to be installed in the following areas: Hayes Valley, Civic Center, the Financial District, SOMA, the Mission, Fisherman’s Wharf, the Marina, and the Fillmore District.

Alyssa Carducci ([email protected]) writes from Florida.