Examiner Editorial: Stop midnight meter madness

Finding someplace to park a car on San Francisco streets is torture. A driver that visits, works or lives in The City must cope with irritations such as endlessly circling a block or waiting double-parked in hopes of a space opening up; parking illegally and praying not to get caught; rushing into the street at inconvenient hours to feed a meter or move a car; and paying an expensive monthly tithe of parking tickets.

Now the pain could become significantly worse. The Municipal Transportation Agency — which runs the Department of Parking and Traffic — has a heavy-handed proposal to drastically expand parking meter hours into evenings and Sundays citywide, creating massive new stress for motorists and significantly discouraging customers from patronizing tax-generating San Francisco businesses.

A new Muni parking meter study requested by some of the more unrealistic Board of Supervisors members recommends charging drivers to park until midnight in neighborhoods with active nightlife — such as the Mission, North Beach, Union Square, the Castro and Fisherman’s Wharf. Meters in other commercial centers — the Financial District, West Portal, Inner Richmond and Inner Sunset — would require feeding until 9 p.m.

The pain and suffering created by this gouging would supposedly deliver the MTA $8.8 million annually — not much of a dent in the $129 million deficit for the 2009-10 fiscal year. But even that projected revenue seems questionable, due to unstated startup costs for switching to longer meter hours. More parking enforcement officer staffing would be needed, whether by overtime or new hires. Thousands of meters would need to be either modernized or replaced with more complex models.

Letter-writers have bombarded The Examiner with well-reasoned objections, and the MTA board of directors’ first meeting on the plan Tuesday was three hours of contentious grumbling debate about the issue. Somehow it does not seem to have registered with the supervisors and the MTA that neighboring Oakland tried much the same increase of meter hours and fees as recently as July — and then had to rescind it in September when outraged voters threatened to recall the entire City Council.

So why would San Francisco officials think voters here might react any differently?

Adding insult to injury, MTA chief Nathaniel Ford unconvincingly insists that even though midnight Sunday metering would be a moneymaker, the plan’s true purpose is to improve city traffic and parking access while fostering San Francisco’s transit-first policy. Ford said he welcomes debate and will “reach out” to business groups, neighborhood associations and transit advocates before deciding whether to move forward with a finalized plan.

The Examiner would not be surprised if this “outreach” blows up in the face of the MTA and the midnight meter madness soon fades away into the oblivion it deserves.

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