While several cities such as London and Singapore use congestion pricing to limit traffic and promote public transportation during peak driving hours, San Francisco is the first city to use parking as a way of clearing room on the roads. How does it work? By using technologies and the principles of the free market to ensure that one parking spot is always available on every single city block.
The new federally funded pilot program, dubbed SFpark, uses parking censors to provide information on parking availability to a central database, which drivers can access online or on their smartphones. The interesting thing is, access to real-time parking availability isn’t even the most radical part of the plan.
The meters will actually charge varying rates based on the good ol’ rules of supply and demand. Every month, prices will be set according to how busy each block is; the busier the street, the more expensive the parking spot. Prices will also vary by time of day, with prime morning and afternoon periods more expensive than less busy parts of the day. The SF Gate has the details:
The hourly rate to park at a meter in San Francisco currently ranges from $2 to $3.50, depending on the neighborhood. Agency officials anticipate the price will fluctuate between 25 cents and $6 under SFpark.
The price could jump as high as $18 an hour for special events, such as popular ballgames, street festivals and Fleet Week. However, the special event rates initially will be closer to $5 an hour.
Officials claim that this isn’t about raising revenue; after all, many spots will be cheaper than usual. What it is about is reducing traffic. According to SFpark, up to 1/3 of all city traffic is caused by drivers circling to park. With SFpark, if at least one parking space isn’t available on a block at any time, prices will increase until there is one. The idea is that if there is always a parking spot open on every street, there won’t be people double-parking and constantly circling looking for spots. Plus it will have the added advantage of encouraging more people to take alternative modes of transportation like bicycles and BART instead of paying high prices for parking. Spaces will also open in less busy blocks and in city parking lots, ensuring that if you really do need to drive, there is an affordable option for you, with the cheapest spaces going for only a quarter. Machines will also take credit cards, meaning you won’t have to fumble around for change anymore.
The program kicks off on April 21st. Only time will tell if the plan will actually work, although if you have driven in San Francisco before, you know how bad the parking situation can be. If the variable pricing doesn’t work, at least you still have the censors and high-tech parking meters. The only sure thing is you’re not going to solve big, urban problems without at least trying big solutions like SFpark.
Photo: Wouter Kiel, Flickr, CC