Variable-rate parking meter fail.

SFpark hourly meters actually saves motorists money

Since taking effect in April 2011, average hourly rates have dropped by 14 cents from $2.73 to $2.59 at the 7,000 SFpark meters. Overall, 17 percent of those meters offer hourly rates of $1 or less -- prices that are significantly cheaper than the ones offered at The City's 22,000 older meters. And 6 percent of SFpark meters go for as cheap as 25 cents an hour, according to data from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which oversees parking policies in The City. The drop in prices for on-street parking meters coincides with a 20 percent rate decrease in SFMTA-run garages.

Because the SFpark meters provide more payment options for motorists, ticket citations have decreased.

Previously, the SFMTA received about 45 percent of its parking revenue from citations. At the SFpark meters, that rate is 20 percent, agency spokesman Paul Rose said.

Rates at the SFpark meters are adjusted every six weeks to reflect demand for specific spaces, with prices as high as $5.75 an hour. Jay Primus, project manager at SFpark, noted that only half the meters were changed during the last adjustment, meaning that prices are nearing an hourly rate that will consistently manage demand.

Ok, so it's not surprise that the headline and most of the article start from the assumption that anything that makes it cheaper to own a car is good -- saving money good! -- and totally ignores the fact that car owners are already heavily subsidized and not paying their fair share of the resources they use and the damage they cause to our society. That's expected.

But:

Instead of drawing in reams of revenue for the SFMTA, the SFpark program has actually contributed to a slight loss. The agency expects to receive about $5.5 million less than expected from parking citations this fiscal year, although those losses are offset mostly by an increase of $4.4 million from additional meter revenue. The agency has a total budget of $830 million.

"The obligation of this program from the onset was to achieve the lowest parking prices possible to achieve our goals," Primus said. "I think we're proving that."

So, after having installed this system, they have shifted the balance of their revenue stream to make more from "meters" and less from "citations", and credit the UI of the new meters with that, which is nice I guess, but it's still the transfer of money from drivers to the State, so who cares how it gets there, really.

The bottom line seems to be that after installing this expensive and complicated new system, they're down not only the cost of the system, but have also reduced their annual revenue by $1.1M.

I guess they'll... make it up in volume...?

I like the ideas behind SFPark -- it uses math and science to do both economics and social engineering and that's kind of awesome -- but if the end result is that it's giving drivers even more of a free ride than the previous, low-tech system did, then I don't think it's working.

I suppose it's good that the new system results in fewer cars circling the block looking for parking, wasting gas and making a menace of themselves, but is that $1.1M worth of good?

Previously, previously, previously.

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12 Responses:

  1. I suppose the argument is that this system is the most elegant solution to a number of related problems (how to more evenly distribute cars across available spaces; how to reduce the number of instances of illegal parking) and that, assuming it is broadly accepted by the public (which one would imagine to be the case if, on average, it results in lower average parking costs) it allows the city to not only sharply increase parking fines but also to trivially increase revenue or alter parking patterns in future.

    There are all sorts of problems with a revenue generation system that is dependent on fines for a significant portion of its income.

    • Elusis says:

      Remember when SF decided to save money by sweeping the streets less often, and then realized they were losing masses of money from ticketing cars on fewer days? So they decided to continue sweeping on the new less frequent schedule, but go back to ticketing cars on the old schedule! Good times, good times.

  2. phuzz says:

    And there was me getting grumpy at having to pay £30 (per year) to park on my road.

  3. MattyJ says:

    I wonder, do people really 'shop' for cheaper parking? Or do they just pay whatever the meter says? This all sounds great from the consumer's perspective but if SFPark said nothing, would anyone notice?

    Let's also not forget that Sunday metering starts next month, so I'm thinking that deficit will go away soon enough.

    I feel a little spoiled driving a motorcycle in this city. Free parking in lots of places, and even the most expensive motorcycle meters are maybe 50 cents an hour.

    • nooj says:

      I will walk a long way to avoid meter fees. It reminds me to ride my bike unless I really want to drive.

  4. Matt B says:

    not paying their fair share of the resources they use and the damage they cause to our society

    WHHHAAT? Love the "fair share" argument.

    Anyway, I never pay for parking on the street. Sorry, that's what my taxes go for.

  5. Grey Hodge says:

    With how much drivers pay in ownership fees/taxes and gas taxes, I wouldn't really call free parking a subsidy, especially considering the economic benefit parking give businesses.

  6. Doug Orleans says:

    Fewer meter maids to pay, maybe?

  7. Zygo says:

    Isn't this Braess's paradox in action? You change some path cost in a complex interconnected economic network, and selfish actors optimize their behavior against the network in difficult to predict ways that make the overall network performance worse about half the time (in random networks anyway). Sometimes the result is surprising, but it's no surprise that the set of results contains surprises.

    The parking hot spots are now diffused, some drivers are walking more, and $1.1M no longer has to be pumped into the state through its drivers.

    I kind of wonder what protections there are against gaming the system. Can people lower the price of several adjacent spots by using different spots all the time, or raise it by always using a single spot and leaving all the others empty?

  8. GDorn says:

    Parking meters weren't always about revenue.