Futuristic parking on the way

On any given day, drivers in San Francisco frantically circle city streets on the hunt for a curbside gem — a parking space. It is a frustrating experience in most neighborhoods, but The City is working to give relief from the steering-wheel runaround.

From parking meters that allow you to pay by cell phone to prepaid parking cards to Web sites that track parking availability, San Francisco is undergoing a variety of experiments in the way drivers pay to park and to ease congestion on some of the most heavily traveled roads in the Bay Area.

State-of-the art parking meters, introduced Tuesday, will keep track of multiple spaces, take credit cards and can send text messages when time is running out. Some of the meters are battery powered, others equipped with solar panels.

The latest in parking pilot programs will target major thoroughfares to and from Doyle Drive, including 19th Avenue-Park Presidio, Geary Boulevard, Lombard Street and Van Ness Avenue.

“We’re using sensors to detect parking availability. As parking gets greater utilization, the price may go up,” San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Executive Director Nathaniel Ford said, adding that price ranges have not been determined.

Along with the new meters, drivers willsomeday be able to access a wireless system via the Internet that tracks parking availability on a minute-by-minute basis. In conjunction with newly launched meters on Doyle Drive thoroughfares, a separate 90-day pilot program in nine city garages sends text messages to drivers when meters are set to expire and allows drivers to pay by credit card through cell phones.

In addition, The City has tried prepaid cards for meters, solar-powered credit card meters in North Beach and progressively priced meters along The Embarcadero.

Although the pilot programs are piling up, Ford said it will be a “few years” before any of the new systems are in place for parkers.

Once they are installed, however, there will be a strong enforcement element attached, he said. With the wireless meters and ground sensors, the agency’s parking control officers can use handheld devices to track parking spaces from any location, which could increase revenue.

In 2005-06, SFMTA collected $29.7 million in parking meter revenue and $19.7 million from parking meter citations, according to a report by the City Controller’s Office released in May.

New meter technologies abound

San Francisco is enacting a slew of pilot programs to make parking on congested streets easier for drivers.

Progressive pay meters

In the fall of 2006, the Port of San Francisco, which operates about 1,000 meters in The City, conducted a 90-day multispace parking meter pilot on seven blocks near The Embarcadero. The meters had progressive parking rates — $3 for the first two hours, $4 for the third hour and $5 for the fourth hour. In the end, 41 percent of drivers paid, while 46 percent of drivers did not.

Prepaid parking cards

In 2005, SFMTA launcheda program in which drivers could purchase prepaid parking cards that can be used at about 23,000 single-space and 250 multispace parking meters. The cards come in $20 and $50 denominations. The 12-month pilot has been extended to the end of this year.

Pay-by-cell phone

A new 90-day pilot announced in September will allow drivers who park at nine city garages, in the Marina, Richmond and West Portal neighborhoods, to register their cell phone and credit card numbers to receive text messages when the meter is about to expire. Drivers will then have the option of charging more time on the machine.

Solar meters

This summer, the SFMTA launched a 90-day pilot program to test four solar-powered, multispace parking meters in North Beach, on the block of Columbus Avenue between Union and Green streets. The City removed the coin-operated meters to test the high-tech machines, which accept credit cards.

Variable pricing meters

SFMTA officials highlighted pilot programs Tuesday that include numerous multispace parking meters that accept credit cards and can be set up to allow parkers to pay via cell phone. The parking meters may be installed on the congested corridors leading to and from Doyle Drive, including Geary Boulevard, Van Ness Avenue and Lombard Street.

– Source: SFMTA, Port of San Francisco

arocha@examiner.com

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