Peak Pricing for Parking

From my point of view, the NY Times buried the lede in this story about installation of parking sensors on San Francisco streets.  The article focuses mainly on the ability of drivers at some time in the future to get locations of empty parking spots on the streets via smartphone or possibly their GPS.  But I thought the pricing changes they were facilitating were more interesting:

SFpark, part of a nearly two-year $95.5 million program intended to
clear the city's arteries, will also make it possible for the city to
adjust parking times and prices. For example, parking times could be
lengthened in the evening to allow for longer visits to restaurants.

city's planners want to ensure that at any time, on-street parking is
no more than 85 percent occupied. This strategy is based on research by
Mr. Shoup, who has estimated that drivers searching for curbside
parking are responsible for as much of 30 percent of the traffic in
central business districts.

In one small Los Angeles business
district that he studied over the course of a year, cars cruising for
parking created the equivalent of 38 trips around the world, burning
47,000 gallons of gasoline and producing 730 tons of carbon dioxide.

install the market-priced parking system, San Francisco has used a
system devised by Streetline, a small technology company that has
adapted a wireless sensor technology known as "smart dust" that was
pioneered by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley.

gives city parking officials up-to-date information on whether parking
spots are occupied or vacant. The embedded sensors will also be used to
relay congestion information to city planners by monitoring the speed
of traffic flowing on city streets. The heart of the system is a
wirelessly connected sensor embedded in a 4-inch-by-4-inch piece of
plastic glued to the pavement adjacent to each parking space.

device, called a "bump," is battery operated and intended to last for
five and 10 years without service. From the street the bumps form a
mesh of wireless Internet signals that funnel data to parking meters on
to a central management office near the San Francisco city hall.

This is actually really cool, but my guess is that politicians will not have the will to charge the level of peak prices the system may demand.

Postscript:  As many of you know, there is a new wave of urban planners who want to impose dense urban living on all of us, whether we like it or not.  I have no problem with folks who want to fight the masses and live in downtown SF or Manhattan, but the world should also have a place for the majority of us who like to have an acre of land and a bit less congestion. 

Anyway, in singing the praises of the urban lifestyle (which often is as much an aesthetic preference vs. suburbia as anything else), you seldom hear much about this type of thing:

Solving the parking mess takes on special significance in San Francisco
because two years ago a 19-year-old, Boris Albinder, was stabbed to
death during a fight over a parking space....

The study also said that drivers searching for metered parking in just
a 15-block area of Columbus Avenue on Manhattan's Upper West Side drove
366,000 miles[!!] a year.

And here we suburbanites are complaining when we have to park more than 5 spaces from the door of the supermarket.


  1. Stephen Macklin:

    I estimate it will be no more than 2 days before there is a free parking hack.

  2. Jim Collins:

    Notice that it doesn't say anything about this technology resetting the meter to zero when a car leaves a parking space. This should enhance parking revenues.

  3. dave:

    my girlfriend is one of those upper west siders perpetually looking for parking spaces. Her proposed solution is that the government ought to force developers to build parking garages in the basements of new buildings. My retort is that those who want to live in a city ought not to have a car. But no matter. That would be too logical.

  4. ErikTheRed:

    I live in an urban environment (not New York or LA), and I love it. We walk just about everywhere, and use our cars maybe once a week. The irony is that living in our area, we've developed a sense of where parking is available - so on the odd occasions where we do need a space (when friends come to visit, etc) we have no difficulty finding one. We also know when there won't be any spaces available and taking a cab or public transportation makes more sense. I think that finding ways to impart that sort of knowledge would be less expensive and more efficient than trying to evenly distribute the limited number of parking spaces.

    The other problem is (no offense) the suburbanites that whine endlessly about having to walk more than two blocks to get anywhere. A little urban living would do wonders for their health :-)

  5. HIghway:

    Coyote, I agree entirely that peak pricing will not match demand. It never does.

    Personally, I'm amazed at the flexibility such a parking system would make possible, and that won't be used because it's 'too hard' for average people to figure out. Actual time of use pricing, small-increment billing (so you don't have to guess how long you're going to be, and overpay), even benefits for enforcement. Compare your parking spaces in use to your parking spaces being paid for, and you know where to send you citation writers.

    There would definitely be glitches with this kind of thing, but there are glitches now. Seems worth the troubles if something could be implemented.

  6. eCurmudgeon:

    I'm more surprised that the Democratic People's Republic of San Francisco is even bothering with parking in place of simply making most of "The City" into one big car-free zone.

    Yes, I know the real reason is "revenue", but it's not much of a stretch to think that they haven't been looking at Nurse Bloomberg's plans for Manhattan without some amount of envy...

  7. morganovich:

    as a long time denizen of SF, let me add a bit to this discussion. this is a naked power grab by a couple of supervisors and has, in actuality, very little to do with concerns about congestion. it's about revenue. if congestion reduction were the real goal, the first thing to do would be to crack down on double parking, which is endemic.

    pricing parking in business districts by time is just not going to change behavior much. how much are they going to raise prices? parking at most business district meters in SF is already 25 cents for 5 minutes. in some places, it's 25 cents for 3 minutes ($5/hr). we are already using stored value cards because no one can carry enough quarters. to justify $10/hr, they need a new seemingly impartial method for devising price. and no one needs to vote on this just as no one voted as parking tickets were increased several times (they have more than doubled in the last 14 years).

    this is a direct result of our "direct democracy" in action. if you want to predict which SF ballot initiatives are going to pass, use a very simple rule: if they cost money, they pass. if the generate it or require accountability of a government agency, they don't. so a very wealth city is left perpetually budget strapped with crap pavement and mediocre services. things like parking prices and parking tickets are great revenue sources and no politician has to stand up and champion it to the electorate. they just push it through an unaccountable city agency (DPT) and voila, bob's your uncle...

  8. Dr. T:

    parking tickets were increased several times (they have more than doubled in the last 14 years)

    Morganovich, you got a bargain, since inflation over the past 14 years has effectively doubled prices.

    I'd like to know how city supervisors can grab power by increasing the city's parking revenues. Will the supervisors who favor this proposed system be given one-and-a-half votes each instead of just one? Or will their take from graft go up enough that they can buy more power?

  9. morganovich:

    dr t

    not sure to what inflation you referring. i think you are in error. for prices to double in 14 years, they need to compound at just over 5% per year. this has not been the case. it's been more like 3%, which yields about a 50% increase whereas SF tickets (street cleaning/overtime on meter) have gone from $25 to $50+ (and poised for $65) in the same period. some of the higher value tickets (like parking in a red zone) have gone up even faster.

    regarding the supes, what i mean by power grab is that they have already spent this money (and so need to raise it somewhere) and are using this as a way to raise taxes without actually having to vote. to the extent that we continue to allow them to use bureaucracy as opposed to legislation to raise revenues from san franciscans, we have granted them more power than was intended and allow them to shirk the personal responsibility of supporting a tax rise.

    it is becoming clear that this is a bit of a slippery slope as they view such bureaucratic methods as a sort of piggy bank for their personal projects or to avoid fiscal responsibility around the general fund. another excellent example are the fees for a towed vehicle which are now in the neighborhood of $600 before you even pay any storage fees.

    this is an interesting idea:

    they are essentially planning to be a clearing house for parking spaces that are not being used.
    i have some real questions about the logistics of this, but interested to see how it works.

    i am also interested to see how the city responds to this. ought to be very telling in terms of seeing whther they really want to increase efficiency or just reduce cars/raise money.