Over the past few years, seven San Francisco neighborhoods have served as a testing ground for SFpark, an SFMTA-initiated project that adjusts parking meter prices based on the time of the day and the day of the week.
Originally piloted with 25 percent of the city’s parking meters, SFpark's demand-responsive pricing will roll out to the rest of San Francisco’s parking meters early next year—including in the Castro.
“Parking is a product like anything else, and some spots are more valuable than others,” SFMTA parking policy manager Hank Willson told the Castro Merchants at a meeting this month. He argued that if people know where parking is available and how much they can expect to pay before they pull out of their driveways, it will reduce the amount of circling and unsafe driving practices.
According to SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose, the pilot program was a success. It decreased parking search time by 43 percent, and average meter and garage rates actually went down, by 11 cents and 42 cents an hour, respectively.
SFMTA says the program also helps businesses sell more, because potential customers are able to find a place to park. Between 2010 and 2013, sales tax revenues for businesses in non-SFpark areas increased 20 percent, but in SFpark neighborhoods, they went up by more than 35 percent, indicating that consumers were spending more in those neighborhoods.
Demand-responsive pricing can get high—the program's ceiling for parking rates is $7 per hour, while its floor is 50 cents. But for those not parking at peak times, it can function as a money-saver. “During the SFpark pilot,” Willson said, “only a very small percentage actually hit the maximum rate. An even higher percentage went down to the minimum.”
Willson also said that the meters will be recalibrated quarterly, increasing or decreasing rates by 25 cents in keeping with demand. Therefore, drivers shouldn’t expect to see large jumps in hourly parking—or at least, not all at once.
One Castro Merchants member wanted to know SFpark is intended to promote public transportation use, or just increase revenues to the city. Willson responded by again noting that average parking rates went down.
“Obviously, it goes up in some places certain times of the day, and sometimes it goes down,” he said. “But the goal is not to raise revenue—the goal is to help people find parking and make better decisions.”
Willson cited an example from the Marina: Chestnut and Lombard streets. “The price on Chestnut went up to about $4 at some times of the day, and the price at Lombard went down to a dollar an hour," he said. "So, if someone wanted a deal, all they had to do was go one block over. If they wanted to park right in front of the store [on Chestnut] and pay more, they could.”
Another Castro merchant was curious as to how people are supposed to look up parking prices on the SFpark app while also driving and (hopefully) searching safely for a spot.
Willson said that he and his team are currently working with third parties like Google Maps, so that pricing and parking availability data can be integrated into navigation apps. The goal is to allow people to select where they want to park and how much they want to pay for parking (or that they don't care about the price) before pushing “navigate.”
Willson told the merchants that once the “IT back-end” is all built out, SFMTA plans to roll demand-responsive pricing out to the rest of the city in early 2017. The move will make San Francisco the first major city in the U.S. to have citywide demand-responsive pricing for parking.
“I don’t think that you will actually notice [the new program] much,” said Willson. “There won’t be any installations of new parking meters or any closings of parking spaces. The more you learn about the program, the more we think you’ll like it.”