At just over a decade old, San Francisco’s parking meters are well past their prime. But a $54 million plan to replace the coin-fed meters with credit card-friendly technology is on hold, and distrust with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s plan to buy up to 10,000 new meters is partly to blame.
The SFMTA in September approved a $54 million contract with San Diego-based IPS Group to replace the existing 25,000 parking meters — which use spare parts that are no longer manufactured and have erratic batteries — with solar-powered devices that can be fed via smartphone and credit card or coin. The 6,500 meters installed in 2010 under SFpark, “smart” meters that alert users to available parking spots in order to reduce traffic, would also be replaced.
Parking meters are big bucks for the SFMTA, which has seen revenue from parking double over the past decade to $53 million a year, according to records.
The new meters won’t be as lucrative — the cost of operating them is projected to quadruple due to software licensing and wireless communications costs — but would be more convenient for motorists.
But the big buy has been delayed at the Board of Supervisors over concerns with the SFMTA’s contract option to purchase an additional 10,000 new meters.
Transit officials insist that the new meters would mostly go to the Port of San Francisco, where 1,200 meters — the Port manages its parking independent of the SFMTA — are also old and need to be replaced.
But that leaves 8,800 meters the SFMTA has the ability to buy – and nowhere to put them except in areas that currently have free parking and where residents and businesses have previously rejected new meters.
“There’s distrust in the neighborhoods” over parking meters, Supervisor Mark Farrell said at an October board hearing. With the new meters, “I don’t have any security that there’s not going to be 10,000 new [metered] parking spots.”
Officials with the SFMTA were not available for comment Monday.
The parking meter buy may be modified — with added controls or steps before new meters can be installed — before the contract returns to the Board of Supervisors for approval Nov. 26, according to Supervisor John Avalos, who faulted the SFMTA for not being more upfront about adding to its meter supply.
Meters are part of an ideological struggle in San Francisco: transit advocates and cyclists decry meter-less streets as “free parking” and a handout to motorists, while drivers feel excessively penalized for choosing to drive and point out that new revenue has not improved Muni.
The neighborhoods considered the most-likely candidates for new meters are Potrero Hill and the northeast section of the Mission district, where new residential development is booming in the areas around Showplace Square.
It’s places like these where merchants often ask for new meters in order to promote “turnover” in front of their businesses, according to the SFMTA’s Sonali Bose. Spot installations of a few meters requested by merchants would be the most likely use of the thousands of new meters, she said.
Those are also places where new parking meters have been soundly rejected.
“They have lied to us at every turn,” said Tony Kelly, a neighborhood activist who helped block meters in Potrero Hill. “Nothing in the past two years gives us any confidence that they’ll try to honestly get our approval before installing new parking meters.”
If The City doesn’t like the new meters, they won’t last long: the life expectancy of the technology is seven to ten years, according to the SFMTA.
Parking meter revenues
Revenue from parking meters has doubled in the past decade, but is projected to drop.
Fiscal year: Revenue
2003-04: $24.1 million
2004-05: $24.1 million
2005-06: $29.6 million
2006-07: $30.9 million
2007-08: $31.6 million
2008-09: $32.5 million
2009-10: $38.2 million
2010-11: $40.4 million
2011-12: $47.0 million
2012-13: $53.3 million
2013-14: *$45.7 million
The new parking meters are more expensive to maintain.
Year: Maintenance cost
2013-14: *$1.4 million
2014-15: *$3.2 million
2015-16: *$4.9 million
2016-17: *$5.7 million
2017-18: *$6.5 million