Parking benefits on the way out

Government workers are losing free-parking perks as The City struggles financially.

The long-standing practice of permitting government workers and elected officials to park for free is being challenged because of the financial impact to The City and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which oversees Muni and parking, but also because of San Francisco’s transit-first policy.

While average citizens are paying $3 an hour at some metered spaces and $98 a year to park on streets near where they live, city and county workers are exempt and not subject to the hundreds of dollars in parking violations that often plague drivers.

Free parking for thousands of government employees comes in several forms, such as within and around government buildings, reserved designated spaces in parking garages and placards — issued by city departments — that are placed in the windshields of vehicles to shield them from parking limits.

“[The SFMTA is] eliminating free parking for all government employees and elected officials where it can; that includes city streets and lots and garages,” agency spokesman Paul Rose said.

Nearly 47 percent of the approximate 27,000 city employees are driving to and from work, according to the most recent estimates by the Department of the Environment — although not all are receiving free parking. The remainder use alternative methods such as walking, bicycling, public transportation and car pools.

In December, employees working for the SFMTA will have to start paying $80 to park at work sites.

In February, the agency is scheduled to become the sole issuer of the permits that have allowed city officials to park for free. Those permits will cost $924 annually.

Both changes will generate $3.5 million in revenue a year.

“All [SFMTA] employees currently receiving free parking at their work site will need to begin paying or find alternative transportation or parking arrangements,” SFMTA Executive Director Nathaniel Ford said in an Aug. 2 memo to agency workers.

This change, approved by the SFMTA board of directors, “made a statement that the organization can no longer afford to provide free parking to its employees while still upholding its mission to promote sustainable travel options,” Ford said in the memo.

“As a transportation provider in a [transit-first city], the SFMTA has an obligation to make parking policies for employees consistent with those for the general public,” the memo said.

Increasing parking fees and fines, adding bike lanes around San Francisco and not requiring parking spaces in new developments are in line with The City’s transit-first policy.

Small-business advocates have long considered the free-parking practice unfair.

“It’s been an ongoing battle for years and years,” said Scott Hauge, president of the advocacy group Small Business California, adding that free parking reduces revenue for The City while occupying spaces that could be making money. “They can take the bus like we do.”

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

Paying their fair share

Drivers in San Francisco pay hefty prices for parking and parking violations, but some city government workers have enjoyed parking perks. However, that’s expected to change in months ahead.

What you pay
$98 Cost of an annual neighborhood parking permit
$3.50 Hourly rates for parking meters downtown
$3.50 Hourly rates for parking meters surrounding downtown
$2 All other areas

What the fines are
$65 Meter violation downtown
$55 Meter violation outside downtown
$65 Exceeding time limit of parking in residential space

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