It is popular in San Francisco to complain that The City is continually looking for ways to charge more for anything on wheels. But that is not really true. What needs to be said is that the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which oversees parking as well as Muni, has created several smart policies that ensure drivers pay only what is fair for the services they receive.
Parking is perhaps the largest expense for drivers in San Francisco, especially in and around downtown. Last year, to properly manage parking in congested areas, the agency launched SFpark, a project that tied the price of parking to the demand in that area. SFpark also includes technology that can help drivers find parking spaces through a smartphone application, which helps to save people time instead of circling the block while trying to find an empty space.
This demand-based pricing appears to be working. For instance, the agency recently announced that the average price at city-owned parking garages has dropped 95 cents since the SFpark rate changes began. For example, drivers can currently park all day at the Marina parking garage on Lombard Street for $2 an hour or less, according to the transit agency. The hourly rate for other city-owned garages is higher, but this is a pricing model that makes sense — charging more for things that are in demand, and less for those that are not.
The good news for drivers is that they do not have to pay high rates for spaces in low demand. It makes no sense for drivers to pay the same hourly rate in outlying neighborhoods as they pay at garages downtown.
Parking meters also have been adjusted under SFpark. High-demand meters can cost drivers up to $4.75 an hour under the current pricing structure. But drivers willing to park a little farther from the hustle and bustle can pay as little as 25 cents per hour. Before, motorists who parked in spaces on the fringes of commercial districts still had to pay the same rate as those who parked in the middle of the action. Now, such drivers receive a discounted rate.
If the transportation agency truly wanted to wring every last penny out of The City’s drivers, it would not be lowering pricing at parking meters and parking garages in response to actual demand. If the anti-car rhetoric were true, the agency would have hiked all of its parking meter rates to nearly $5 an hour and charged sky-high rates for all of its parking garages. But the agency has begun wisely managing its parking spaces to fill the available spots.
While it would be utopian to say all parking should be inexpensive in San Francisco, the truth is that there is high demand, and users of this valuable resource should be charged accordingly — which they now are under the smarter management of The City’s transit agency.