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Prices affect parking less than San Francisco expected

Perfomance parking has not has as big an impact as was expected in San Francisco. Even with high rates, popular blocks still fill up, and other blocks remain under-filled even at low prices.

Photo by niallkennedy on Flickr.

SFPark is an innovative, federally-supported performance parking pilot program. But it will adjust meter rates in its seven pilot areas this month—the third adjustment since the program's launch in 2010.

Each time San Francisco has adjusted the rates, the spread between the least expensive and the most expensive blocks has increased. After this latest adjustment, parking rates will vary from a low of $0.75 up to $4.25/hr. To date, the most crowded blocks have typically continued to be crowded even after adjusting the prices upward, while under-occupied blocks have not filled up even after dropping the price.

If the pricing spread continues to widen, parking on some blocks in San Francisco will be a considerable bargain compared to spaces even one block away. One particular block in the Civic Center area is $0.75/hr while the next block is $3.25/hr until noon, and then $3.75/hr from noon until 3pm.

At Fisherman's Wharf, parking can range from $1.50/hr to $2.75/hr within a few blocks as proximity to the tourist attractions in the North increases. In the Marina area, a one-block difference could mean paying $1.50 more for an hour of parking.

Even these steep price differences don't seem to be causing the cheaper blocks to fill up. Blocks in the program that end up below their target occupancy will again have their prices reduced during the next round of adjustments.

San Francisco is collecting data about congestion relief in the areas targeted in the SFPark program. It appears we've learned several lessons already.

This performance parking experiment is demonstrating that on high-demand blocks, drivers are very insensitive to price increases. The experiment is also showing that parking demand is highly localized, with price differences of as much as 100% continuing even through two adjustment cycles.

On the other hand, there's still more to learn.

Even if blocks are missing their target occupancy, performance parking could still be having a positive effect. Are the prices leading to a higher turnover in available spaces? And if so, are the available spaces leading to a reduction in drivers hunting for parking, as the theory suggests?

Are there other factors that could be influencing the success of the program at changing parking demand, such as the size of the pilot zones or their proximity to non-pilot zone areas? Or do city administrators and performance parking advocates need to fundamentally reexamine assumptions about performance parking systems?

According to project advisor Donald Shoup, the project report will answer these questions later next year. The things planners learn in San Francisco could have a big impact on the way we think about and design parking and parking policy.

Michael Perkins serves on the Arlington County Transportation Commission, though the views expressed here are his own. He lives in Arlington with his wife and two children. 


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Seems like they're bumping up against the basic problem with implementing performance parking - communicating the rate changes to parkers.

I'd hypothesize that lots of people would gladly park 2-3 blocks away for half the cost if they knew that was available to them without simply cruising around.

I'd also note that building up those kinds of patterns for parkers will take time. Three rate adjustments within the span of a few months isn't enough time for parkers to learn those intricacies.

by Alex B. on Dec 13, 2011 12:17 pm • linkreport

Maybe $4.25/hr is still too darn cheap to make a difference!

by Sam on Dec 13, 2011 12:20 pm • linkreport

How is the pricing information shown to the consumer/driver? Is there a clear and easy way that I'd know the rate for parking on one block vs. another? Or is it only once I've parked, and get to the meter to buy my time? If there's not clear and easy communication of the varying rates given which block the driver is on, it would seem like drivers will need a substantial amount of time to learn the differences by experience only.

by Charles on Dec 13, 2011 12:22 pm • linkreport

I wonder what the impact of credit card acceptance is on this. Unfortunately, for many people (including me at times), there is a sense of "put it on the credit card and deal with it later" when it comes to price.

by dcdriver on Dec 13, 2011 12:38 pm • linkreport

One other question on the title of this post:

The title says the results are less responsive to price than expected, but the post itself makes no reference to what that expectation was.

by Alex B. on Dec 13, 2011 12:51 pm • linkreport

Information, information, information. Markets need information to work.

Also, it is impossible to model demand here. Even a block level model isn't grannular enough.

I wonder how much money Shoup is making off this.

by charlie on Dec 13, 2011 12:53 pm • linkreport

I agree with the previous posters; this parking plan may be suffering as a market with imperfect information. If I pull up and see that the rate was $4.25, I would just figure the rates were ridiculous in that part of town. Likewise, if I knew that a month ago I parked in that neighborhood for $1.25 but now it's $4.25, I'd figure the rates had gone up.

Even if I knew this was a performance parking zone, I need to park now and here is a space. I know rates might be lower somewhere else, I don't know where to go, how far away I need to go, how much I would have to pay (could be higher) and whether there would be a space available. Without this information, I might just pay the price for the spot right here.

There should be a technology fix for this situation and I hope that they are working on it.

by josey23 on Dec 13, 2011 12:55 pm • linkreport

Seems to me if there are areas where one block is $0.75 and the next over $3, there is a reason people are not parking on the cheap block. It could be, as Alex B says, that people don't know about the price difference (and the expensive block is probably closer to some amenity so people fill it up first) or it could be that the cheaper block is harder to access in some way.

My guess is it's lack of information; people just look for some close parking and don't really care what it costs.

by MLD on Dec 13, 2011 1:00 pm • linkreport

There's a solution for some people to the information problem: there exists an app for iphone and android that tells you what the parking rates are.

by MLD on Dec 13, 2011 1:03 pm • linkreport

"This performance parking experiment is demonstrating that on high-demand blocks, drivers are very insensitive to price increases."

Well, they are insensitive to prices up to $4.25/hr which still seem really, really cheap to me for a parking spot very close to one or more extremely popular destination. Try $15, $20 or $30/hr and see what happens. BONUS: the city makes more money if you do it this way.

by Do the Math on Dec 13, 2011 1:03 pm • linkreport

@Sam "Maybe $4.25/hr is still too darn cheap to make a difference!"

I agree. Compared to the rates in garages in some of those high-demand areas, $4.25/hour is still a bargain.

There's also Alex's comment that people (especially tourists) may not have any clue that cheaper, easier parking is available a few blocks away. While there may be a handful of drivers who are seriously price-and-aggravation-adverse, a few blocks is not too far for most people.*

*This is apparently not true in supermarket/mall parking lots where people will pass up parking spaces in order to drive around in an endless loop to park marginally closer to the entrance. I suspect these are the same people who use their car to check the mailbox at the end of the driveway.

by Adam L on Dec 13, 2011 1:04 pm • linkreport

The absolute price of parking seems second to the price of street parking relative to pay lots. If the minimum payment at a lot is $10 or more, people are going to pay $4.25 without blinking. That price may be higher than it was (and higher than the cost 3 blocks away) but it's still a darn sight cheaper than an off-street lot.

by David on Dec 13, 2011 1:14 pm • linkreport

@MLD: "There's a solution for some people to the information problem: there exists an app for iphone and android that tells you what the parking rates are."

Unfortunately, a friend of mine was recently ticketed for using the iPhone app to look for nearby parking spots. He had pulled into one of the expensive spots and was looking for a cheaper one at the time. Under the California law, they can apparently ticket you unless you turn the car off, which wastes gas and defeats some of the value of looking for a cheaper spot.

by Arl Fan on Dec 13, 2011 1:30 pm • linkreport

Nice article, I've been curious how this project has been going. I'm interested to see if some drivers eventually figure this out and park slightly farther from their destinations. Its only been going on for a few months. Perhaps the study should just be continued until things settle out.

by Allan on Dec 13, 2011 1:31 pm • linkreport

I'm curious to know if anyone in SF thinks the slow speeds with which the parking prices adjust (every few months, max $0.25 up and $0.50 down per block) have anything to do with the demand side not changing as much as expected.

by CityBeautiful21 on Dec 13, 2011 1:36 pm • linkreport

I don't see how checking your iphone with driving and looking for parking can be considered a good idea at all.

When measuring this stuff, you've got to define short term vs. long term. Long term -- $4 parking will change behavior over a period of years. Short term -- I doubt it.

@adamL; your parking lot people are everywhere. It is a bad habit -- and one that is very commonplace. Much better to go NYC style and just double park on the street and wait for a space to open up.

Since the entire idea of performace parking is reducing congestion, I'd like to see how that works. Having people run around a low speeds looking for spots on the their mobile seems to make congestion worse, rather than better.

by charlie on Dec 13, 2011 1:38 pm • linkreport

One way to test if this matters is to assign a subgroup of all the priced blocks to a faster-changing schedule with wider variation and see if demand profiles for individual blocks on the fast adjustment path see more compelling changes.

If not, and assuming the deck pricing can be controlled for, then I would say that those citing the lack of information and non-marginal-cost feel to using a credit card are probably onto the heart of the matter.

by CityBeautiful21 on Dec 13, 2011 1:39 pm • linkreport

Probably at some point, variable pricing doesn't make much difference. People's behavior isn't going to be adjusted significantly for 50 cents or $1.

by Richard Layman on Dec 13, 2011 1:41 pm • linkreport

To the uninformed, the cost of finding a reduced zone is greater than the difference in parking rates. I agree that encouraging drivers to use their smartphones directly to find a cheaper parking spot is a bad idea. The best tech fix, of the current options, would be utilizing Ford Sync or similar systems.

The driver can either instruct Sync to find parking/cost options in the drivers vicinity or, even better, tell Sync at the onset of the trip that the driver will be looking for curbside parking near the destination address.

by bmv818 on Dec 13, 2011 1:47 pm • linkreport

Regarding the app: imagine driving around looking for a space and simultaneously looking at your phone to find a cheaper spot. Don't pay attention to the traffic, bicyclists, or the pedestrians.

by goldfish on Dec 13, 2011 1:51 pm • linkreport

Check out , and two things stand out:

1. $4.25/hr downtown on a weekday is an excellent deal, especially since street parking is usually more convenient than garage parking. The price cap is too low.
2. Notice how that website has all the private garages, but not the street prices. The private sector is getting the information to its customers; the public section is not.

by tom veil on Dec 13, 2011 1:53 pm • linkreport

...or you can look at your iphone before you get in the car.

If the app works correctly, it should be simple to understand at a glance.

If you can see the street grid on the app, a perfect example would be parking in the red zone (between 5th and 9th streets) is 4.50 an hour and parking in the blue zones (1st to 4th streets and 10th to 15th streets) is 1.50 an hour.

I think there is much more elasticity to price sensivity than just a four dollar difference. They need to keep raising the rates in order to encourage people to look for cheaper means.

This must be good news for city budgets. People are willing to pay a lot more for parking in high demand areas. Who would have thought?

by cmc on Dec 13, 2011 2:00 pm • linkreport

They have real-time availability and pricing on their website (, and as apps for iPhone and Android. But as a local, I can think of several reasons why some spaces are that much more desirable being even a block away.

1. Downtown SF and the Civic Center have a complex network of one-way traffic sewers, so despite being on grids, they are quite difficult to navigate, and it can take 10+ minutes to just find a place to circle around to where you were.

2. Those same areas can become substantially more or less gritty over a distance of just a block or two. Maybe the blocks that are more expensive feel "safer"?

3. Maybe a lot of the parkers are tourists, who are more sensitive to the first two reasons than average, and less likely to know about the app.

4. More people are choosing to drive if their business downtown is short? $4.25 is about the same as Muni and definitely cheaper than BART if you are only staying an hour or so.

by Take the A-Train on Dec 13, 2011 2:04 pm • linkreport

Oh yes, the app is a terrible idea. Because surely someone could not pull over to use it, or have a passenger use it, or use it at a red light, or use it before they even leave.

C'mon people, outside the box thinking!

by MLD on Dec 13, 2011 2:05 pm • linkreport

I'm trying to figure out what happens in a few more rounds when the price of parking on a "good" block is $6 per hour, and one block away the price is $0.25 per hour. What is the maximum gradient that is sustainable?

by Michael Perkins on Dec 13, 2011 2:06 pm • linkreport

@Mperkins; I suspect your gradient could be higher than you ever imagined. PParking is about bidding against someone else, and somebody out there is going to value that spot more than you. Something like unrestricted airline seats.

The more interesting question is whether revenue balances out -- or after substracing your contractor fees, new meters, and all thae fancy stuff, the city would have made more money by raising rates at 10 cents across the board.

Now, I see an argument for rush hour parking. Want to park on M st in Georgetown during rush hour. No problem -- $20 an hour. You could automate ticketing and fire the tow truck operators.*

* still cheaper is go Arlington on them and hire out merc-tow trucks that will tow you at exactly 4:01 to private lots for $150 fines.

by charlie on Dec 13, 2011 2:28 pm • linkreport

The 6/0.25 difference could probably hold out if people don't know the difference exists. It seems to me that people are not yet programmed to think "hey if I look around I could find some cheaper parking!" They are used to parking in a neighborhood being whatever price it is and that price not being different in the surrounding blocks.

I'd be interested to know how parking behavior changes based on the price. So when the price is $2, how long does the average parker pay for? Do they feed the meter, etc.? When the price is $4, do people pay for less time on average?

by MLD on Dec 13, 2011 2:30 pm • linkreport

Put plainly, the Civic Center area in San Francisco is bordered by the Tenderloin District. This area is not nearly as appealing to drivers seeking parking for events like the symphony, opera, ballet, and so forth. Even a $4/hr. difference in parking rates might not be sufficient to induce people to park a block over and risk damage to their vehicle.

by Chris on Dec 13, 2011 2:52 pm • linkreport

People's behavior isn't going to be adjusted significantly for 50 cents or $1.

Counterpoint: The bag tax works, and that's only $0.05, although that may be somewhat apples-to-oranges.

by andrew on Dec 13, 2011 3:07 pm • linkreport

The bag tax shows how providing a lot of information about price changes can influence people's behavior even if the economics of the decision is negligible ($10-$15 a year on the high end?)

If every block had a sign proclaiming the parking price, or if every car had an easy map displaying parking prices, people's behavior would probably be different.

by MLD on Dec 13, 2011 3:15 pm • linkreport

the bag tax is about more than $$. each time you request a bag, it makes you think "I'm such an unsustainable slob I am willing to pay a nickel to pollute the Anacostia, instead of just carrying my item in my hand - or am I?" (I only work in DC, so for me this mostly comes up with single, small items, not a week's worth of groceries) Somehow I don't think parking is quite the same.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 13, 2011 3:25 pm • linkreport

I would imagine that the cheaper places to park also are viewed by drivers as being less desirable for one reason or another (sketchy looking neighborhood, walking up a hill, etc.). the distance that most drivers are willing to walk from their car to a destination is pretty limited.

Prime parking may remain prime across even punishing parking costs. Nonprime parking may remain so even if its free or largely unregulated. The assumptions here on the part of planners and drivers are important and those of the planners may not necessarily have any resemblence to those of parkers.

by Rich on Dec 13, 2011 4:20 pm • linkreport

Information is the problem here.

Especially because when pulling up to a parking meter NOBODY thinks "let me check the internet to see if there are cheaper meters".

Thats not how it works. The assumption is that all parking meters in a given area will cost the same. Thats how it has always worked in SF, and thats how it works almost everywhere else. And with the exception of transit nerds and such who read websites like this, the thought simply wont cross anyones mind. For most, parking meters are just what they are. You pay what it says, no questions asked.

What they need are signs on the meter itself saying "Save $2.50 an hour by parking on x street or y street. Check for current rates"

And even then, if one is only parking for an hour or $2.50 really incentive to get back in the car and try and find another spot...?

by JJJJJ on Dec 13, 2011 4:23 pm • linkreport

The bag tax "works" because you taking a formerly free product and charging more it. Not like performance parking at all. The anallogu there is the first introduction on meters.

However, I'm pretty sure the anacostia is still polluted, and dc is paying fines on rainy days. I

by Charlie on Dec 13, 2011 4:42 pm • linkreport

Having a parking app doesn't help tourists and out-of-town businessmen. The former will be befuddled by the pricing variation, and the latter will just plop the cost on their vouchers.

by YouStreet on Dec 13, 2011 4:48 pm • linkreport


I agree that this may not be very well publicized. I didn't remember seeing anything about SF Park when I was there.

But people are forgetting the main benefit of this plan is to let people know where parking is available. The fact that parking prices in those areas is cheaper is really just an added benefit. If a driver has found a space and is already looking at a meter, the battle is lost. What would have been helpful is to know that parking is plentiful while you were circling around looking for a space. I have no idea how to do that unless you provide great signage (like parking garages that tell you the number of open spaces) and heavily advertise the online website.

by Adam L on Dec 13, 2011 5:07 pm • linkreport

I'm a bit confused here as to why the expectation would be that cheaper blocks, which formerly had open spots, would fill up with performance parking. If the less desirable spaces were not filling up when all on-street parking was cheap, why would they fill up now? In one scenario drivers are displaced to less desirable locations by lack of spaces, in the other by price, but the outcome should be roughly the same. There is apparently only so much demand.

Maybe it can be taken as encouraging for the city that 1) parking demand is perhaps not very high in some areas, and 2) those who do choose to park are willing to pay high prices for prime spots.

by RTA on Dec 13, 2011 5:40 pm • linkreport

@RTA: Initially, the cheapest meters were $2.00 per hour. Some of them have been reduced to 75 cents per hour. One might have expected blocks that had very low demand at $2.00 per hour to increase demand at lower price. And that happened at least in the one spot check I just did. The 100 block of Hickory Street had an occupancy of 21% from 9am to noon when the price was $1.75, and an occupancy of 29% with a price of $1.25. The next price will be $0.75 per hour.

Performance parking doesn't always mean "expensive". In fact, each of the rounds of adjustments had large numbers of blocks with price reductions, about as many as had price increases.

by Michael Perkins on Dec 13, 2011 5:56 pm • linkreport

Maybe this is about information, maybe not. It seems to me urban drivers put a fair amount of effort into collecting exactly this kind of information.

$4.25 an hour is not a bad rate for parking in peak demand areas in San Francisco. Maybe the lack of elasticity in the demand for prime parking spaces isn't such a bad thing. Let the city hike the charge to $10 per hour and use the funds for walking, biking, and transit projects.

And if very few people want to park on certain blocks even at 50c per hour, the City isn't losing anything. Price is one consideration in deciding where one parks, but it's hardly the one.

by Wanderer on Dec 13, 2011 10:44 pm • linkreport

Clearly, someone (the author) really really wants this to work, but in practice, supply & demand aren't everything and the intangibles are not easy to quantify in terms of value. Last week, I went to see Daniel Kahneman, who won a Nobel for documenting the many ways in which people diverge from "rationality" (i.e., this kind of bloodless economic utilitarianism). Sometimes it's emotion, sometimes, it's lack of information, sometimes it's the complexity of information or the absence of a good reference point for making comparison. And frankly an app isn't gonna fix that, esp. when most apps that are downloaded are never used.

by Rich on Dec 13, 2011 11:27 pm • linkreport

@Michael Perkins

One might have expected...

That's what's still missing from this piece. Who expected this? And what, exactly, did they expect? The article answers neither of those questions.

There is no mention of what, specifically, those expectations were. The only allusion is to the broader notion of achieving occupancy targets, but that's far too vague to be an expectation.

The other factor is when did they (whomever 'they' is) expect it (whatever 'it' is)? Professor Shoup's quote at least sheds some light on that subject - namely, that it's way too early to leap to any conclusions.

It would seem, from this article, that you think the very fact that rates are changing again means that the project is not meeting expectations - which seems like a rather absurd premise, to be honest.

by Alex B. on Dec 13, 2011 11:43 pm • linkreport

The results suggest that the SFPark planners seriously underestimated the value people place on being able to park close to their destination.

Performance parking is good because it allows parking space to be used more efficiently. Fewer empty parking spaces in the city means more people are able to use cars. The downside is that it's economically regressive.

by Bertie on Dec 13, 2011 11:55 pm • linkreport

@Alex B: Its obvious that I expected more sensitivity to prices, that a 100% difference in price over the span of a couple of blocks would be enough to cause people to shift demand and make further adjustments unnecessary.

This expectation was based on the amount of complaining people and local businesses normally do when cities propose even the slightest change in parking prices.

by Michael Perkins on Dec 14, 2011 12:56 am • linkreport

How is the parking rate for adjacent blocks communicated to the parker? There's no use altering the rate if when you park you have no idea that the next block over is half price or less - you'll just assume it's the same and be thankful you got a space, instead of getting back in your car and driving around some more.

by Danny B. on Dec 14, 2011 3:27 am • linkreport

I love how the answer is often "there's an app for that." Well, not everyone has an iPhone. Yes, that's true--sorry to shock you. Those who are looking for cheap parking may even be the ones who are less likely to have a smartphone. I'll be in SF in a few months--I'd gladly park a block or two farther to get a cheaper rate. But the city has to tell me how to find it.

by cheapskate on Dec 14, 2011 8:36 am • linkreport

This is an example of economist hubris, to think that the market can be used to solve everything. It doesn't.

For the city point of view, to maximize revenue: just uniformly increase the rates everywhere; use meter time limits to allocate the resource and get more $. For the point of view of the drivers, they will look for the nearest spot to their destination, like they always do. Adding "the market" bidding complexity is a hassle not appreciated by either party.

by goldfish on Dec 14, 2011 9:01 am • linkreport


The city's goal is not to maximize revenue.

by Alex B. on Dec 14, 2011 9:08 am • linkreport

@Alex B: what then is the city's goal?

by goldfish on Dec 14, 2011 9:18 am • linkreport

To better maximize the use of on-street parking spaces.

Is SFpark a way for the City to raise revenue?

No. The primary goal of SFpark is to improve parking availability. Hourly parking rates may increase in high-demand areas and at high-demand times but rates will also decrease in low-demand areas and times. While parking meter revenues may increase, parking ticket revenue will decrease due to longer time limits and new meters that make it easy to pay. By reducing circling and double-parking, SFpark will help the SFMTA reduce Muni costs by speeding up buses and streetcars.

Now, that might very well have a revenue impact, but that's not the goal.

by Alex B. on Dec 14, 2011 9:24 am • linkreport

@Alex B: that is quibbling. The effect of performance parking is to put the city in the business of selling on-street parking, using the market allocate the resource. They should know this, otherwise they are too confused to carry it out.

by goldfish on Dec 14, 2011 9:37 am • linkreport


No, it is not quibbling. I can sell lots of stuff at lots of different price points. I could chose to sell things at cost, or sell to the highest bidder (which is not what this is), or I could chose to sell based on any other number of goals.

Why? Because the stated goal is to use the market to allocate spaces so that you achieve 80-90% occupancy.

The reality is that the price on any given block that achieves that goal is going to be different from the price that would maximize revenue. Ergo, the primary goal is a transportation one - to efficiently allocate a scarce resource of on-street parking.

by Alex B. on Dec 14, 2011 9:52 am • linkreport


It's not quibbling; as you just said, the primary goal is to allocate the resource using the market. That's different from revenue generation as the primary goal.

You seem to be arguing that the city put revenue generation as goal #1, the primary goal of the SFpark scheme. Neither what the city has said nor what they have implemented indicates that revenue generation is the only goal, or even the primary goal.

by MLD on Dec 14, 2011 9:53 am • linkreport

MLD & Alex: performance parking is the same as a grocer selling apples and oranges, or a hotel competing for guests, charging more or less in response to demand. Like an apple or a hotel room, the parking space "dies" every day. Maximizing revenue is the only way to know if the resource is allocated in the most efficient way; otherwise the price is either too high (people trying to park pass over empty spaces) or too low (no parking available).

by goldfish on Dec 14, 2011 10:04 am • linkreport

@goldfish - most efficient for whom?

In the hotel example, there's a cost to the hotel for servicing a room. There's some price that's so low it's not worth it to even rent the room - and that's pricing it at cost, forgetting about profit. That's not the case for parking.

If the fundamental goal of the hotel was to providing accomodations so that 80-90% of their rooms were in use regardless of price, then you'd see a different price structure than you would for a hotel seeking to maximize profit.

by Alex B. on Dec 14, 2011 10:14 am • linkreport

goldfish, it's also possible that the "best" price is to leave many spaces empty. Someone once told me that if airlines had to sell every ticket at the same price, average ticket prices would go up and seats would be empty. That's the situation the city is in. To maximize revenue they'd probably not have 80-90% of spaces filled, but far less. But that isn't their goal. They want to price the spaces to be used, but not overused or under used - that means ignoring revenue.

by David C on Dec 14, 2011 10:50 am • linkreport

Is there something to be said for the argument that people could be able to intuit what the gradient should be for prices?

I think what parts are the busiest and most desirable should be pretty easy to figure out, and what direction you should go to find cheaper parking if you know that the price varies by demand. Maybe you won't be able to guess to the second decimal place, but you might be able to guess that's it's cheaper if you go a block or two in "that direction".

by Michael Perkins on Dec 14, 2011 11:03 am • linkreport


Sure, people can intuit that - if they have information. Again, it all comes back to communicating that information to them.

by Alex B. on Dec 14, 2011 11:09 am • linkreport

I agree Michael. But how much that intuition happens will depend on whether the people parking are regular SF street parkers or not, and whether the SFpark information is publicized enough.

Maybe if you use your credit card, SFpark should send you an e-mail saying "you could park for less next time!" or advertise this on the meters.

There is an ingrained assumption that parking costs what it costs in a neighborhood and that it's not variable. Break that assumption, and then people will start to behave using that intuition.

by MLD on Dec 14, 2011 11:13 am • linkreport

I think first comment by Alex B hit it right on the money -- we SF drivers do not know yet where the cheaper spots versus the more expensive ones. That's true even when it comes to completely different parts of town, much less a block or two away in the same neighborhood. So can San Francisco's parking authority make the price more obvious as one drives by?

by icarus12 on Dec 14, 2011 3:22 pm • linkreport

So can San Francisco's parking authority make the price more obvious as one drives by?

Here's one idea. Use a simple color-coding scheme. Put red borders/color schemes around parking signs/meters in high-cost areas ($3 or more pre hour), yellow ones around mid priced ones ($1-$3) and green ones around those less than a $1 per hour. And then there could be signs at intersections in red zones that use the Parking symbol, colored appropriately, and pointing toward the cheaper parking.

by David C on Dec 14, 2011 3:48 pm • linkreport

@David C

That's an interesting idea, but the problematic with the 'performance' part of it. The signs would have to be dynamic, since the price varies at any given time of day. Likewise, the prices have the potential to change every month.

by Alex B. on Dec 14, 2011 3:54 pm • linkreport

I think it's still far too early to draw conclusions. Increases were limited to 25c/hour. If the market price is $5.50 and the previous price was $2.50, it'll take three years before it settles.

They could've made it more reactive (changes once a month?) but chose stability instead. It's not unreasonable, but it might not be optimal.

Also, to respond to some criticisms here, I don't think success requires everybody to know about the system, or even most people. It's enough that a fraction know. Suppose a quarter know about the website and act on it. A quarter of the cars will shift to the low-demand area-- that's probably more than enough to even out the usage. And if the difference is large they'll tell their friends. So it doesn't matter that the tourists or out-of-town businessmen don't know about it.

Wouldn't hurt to have an ad campaign, though. For example, they could send a bulletin to local businesses after every adjustment, with a map of where the cheap parking is, which can be posted in the window. And simply getting the word out to employees would go a long way, I expect.

Arl Fan: they can apparently ticket you unless you turn the car off

Do you mean "unless you leave the car on"?

by Alai on Dec 14, 2011 11:27 pm • linkreport

My own research shows that even in marginal commercial districts, the elasticity of pricing is close to zero - .1 or lower. The industry-wide number I believe is .15. Either way, that indicates that for an overall occupancy of 80%, you're looking at between $15 and $20 an hour.

by MRB on Dec 15, 2011 10:22 am • linkreport

Please continue the pilot! I would advise rampant sharing of information: Color-coded signs indicating high/med/low(no $$$ rate--it always changes), but also post the cost & location of off-street garages for comparison. Get this to all hotels, restaurants, tourist attractions, and institutions. All retail cashiers and clerks should be experts in order to keep customers coming back and staying.
On-street is short-term temp spots to maintain turnover; off-street is unlimited time. The cost of on-street should be relative to off-street daily rates(the operators have already done the long-term research on this). If you don't want to be hassled,go off-street. If you're in a hurry, go on-street.
Here in NYC the fines are more costly in Manhattan CBD. Would SF consider keying fines to rates? Also remember municipalities must cover their costs so they must maintain cash flow. There's the temptation--kill the golden goose by taking out excessive revenue! Remember OTB in NYC. I'm sure you can think of other mistakes.
Good luck.

by tom murphy on Dec 15, 2011 1:11 pm • linkreport

It is premature to make conclusions about the effectiveness of demand-responsive pricing for parking. Before evaluating its effectiveness, people need time to become aware of rate differences between blocks, time of day, and/or between on- and off-street alternatives (as we have largely lowered rates in garages). These changes do not happen overnight.

Several people have commented that, essentially, “demand-responsive pricing at meters won’t work because drivers will not know prices at different meters or garages”. We disagree. Not everyone needs to know about the differences in parking rates. To create more parking availability, we only need a few people to know about rate changes and choose to park somewhere else.

Who knows about the differences in parking rates? At least some people, whether because they use an app to see rates (as well as availability), park so frequently in the same area that they are "experts" that end up noticing rate differences, or because people will generally start to realize that it now costs less to park in garages than on-street. It is still very early days and it takes time to learn and adjust.

When evaluating the effects of parking pricing on parking demand, it is also important to recognize that parking demand is not constant. Many factors besides price influence parking demand, including seasonal variations (e.g., summer vs. fall), employment levels, and fuel prices. SFpark is a demonstration project, and we are gathering data that will enable a rigorous evaluation to better understand how price, as well as other factors, influence demand for parking. After a longer period (say, 18-24 months) of demand-responsive rate changes, we will all be in a better position to rigorously evaluate how demand-responsive pricing delivers benefits and changes parking, or travel, behavior.

-- Jay Primus, SFMTA's SFpark Manager

by Jay Primus on Dec 15, 2011 8:31 pm • linkreport

In California, about 10% of drivers have handicap placards, and holders of placards park for free. Abuse of the system is rampant. People who park for free are wholly insenstive to posted meter rates. Moreover, in San Francisco (especially near the Civic Center and Union Square), one block can make a HUGE difference in terms of perceived safety.

by Jeff Jacobberger on Dec 30, 2011 1:42 pm • linkreport

SFpark is an Epic Failure. I speak one of the many residents who lives in one of 4 neighborhoods where meters were installed. One only needs to Google SFpark and backlash to get the truth about this ill conceived project.

Jay Primus, who is the SFpark program manager has been putting out propaganda for the last two years to try and get buy in from the public. The program is used 20 million in Federal Funds to essentially install meters in mixed use/ residential neighborhoods. The residents says that that the meters are killing jobs and creating havoc with local neighborhoods.

by Robert Francis on Mar 15, 2012 2:29 pm • linkreport

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