From its taquerias in the Mission to the seals of Pier 39, San Francisco does not shy away from offering a myriad of attractions. But as recreational of a city as the jewel of the Bay Area can be, the difficulties facing San Francisco are accruing. Beyond homelessness and affordable housing, San Franciscans are finding it increasingly difficult to park their cars in the city. The SF municipality is piloting a campaign to increase parking meter prices based on demand in an attempt to remedy congestion in San Francisco.
The need for appropriate parking does not necessarily stem from the lack of parking spaces in the city, but more specifically from the difficulty of finding a parking space in a reasonable amount of time. For SF drivers, the time spent finding parking results in more congested streets and double parking, making the overall time drivers spend in their cars skyrocket. In fact, based on a report by San Francisco-based road analytical company Inrix, drivers spend 83 hours looking for parking, costing them $1,735 per year and the city a whopping $655 million per year.
San Francisco’s municipal authorities are looking to adopt what Fox News is calling an “uber style surge” scheme, which aims to adjust parking meter prices according to the area they are in and the time of day. The planned scheme, which has been partially implemented in some parts of the city, will base parking meter pricing on three time blocks and will be adjusted to the area the parking spots are located. In that sense, parking in more affluent areas or those with bustling night life at 7pm could be more expensive than parking near Union Street at 2pm.
The city agency in charge of the campaign, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, is reassuring drivers by saying that the increase will probably be at an average of 25¢, with the price ceiling at $8. Since 2008, the SFMTA has implemented this scheme on 7,000 out of more than 30,000 meters. And although the city claims the new scheme is not driven by an increase in revenue, a report carried out by the SFMTA itself noted a $3.3 million increase in revenue as a result of the project between 2011 and 2013.
The logic is sound: drivers will think twice about where they are parking and at what time, going about their day-to-day accordingly. Currently, drivers may not necessarily factor in prices of parking based on where they are parking and for how long. “We just need one or two people to make the decision to park on a different block to impact parking availability,” said SFMTA spokesman Paul Rose. “People can also park at a different time or take a different mode of transportation.” However, there are some who refute this logic and doubt this scheme will decrease congestion in the heart of the bay.
Despite claims by the SFMTA about decreasing the time drivers need to look for parking, people like San Francisco Council of District Merchants President, Henry Karnilowicz, disagree with the plan. “I don’t see how increasing rates is going to make the turnover any different,” Karnilowicz said. “People will just have to pay more. If you want to increase turnover, why not just put time limits on parking?”
On paper, drivers will ideally recognize the price for parking at a certain time and in a certain area and drive their cars in the city accordingly. John Nazzal, who owns a deli off Chestnut Street, disagrees. He believes that paying more for parking than for a sandwich, for example, is illogical. Behind Nazzal is Michael Manville, an urban planner who studies at UCLA, who thinks reduced parking time will not reduce congestion. He says: “In a dense urban area, you could have parking pricing reduce cruising for spots. But the road in San Francisco is still in high demand, so there’s no reason to think the road won’t fill in behind them.”
Recent studies have found that sitting in traffic is a ravaging health hazard, which some cities have tried to tackle with practical solutions. Cairo, for example, has substituted side-street parking in the downtown area with an underground parking complex, significantly decreasing the time looking for parking and overall congestion in the capital’s downtown streets. Although the financial and environmental costs exponentially accrue due to congestion, the SFMTA’s parking meter scheme does not seem to provide substantial alternatives to side-street parking.