Dynamic Pricing Parking Meters Climb Above $5/Hour in SF

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SF Park parking meter. (Photo CC by Flickr user Walter Parenteau)

There's a wonky academic theory that if you raise parking meter prices enough, eventually, there will always be one parking spot free on every block. It's like park-topia, a place that glistens in the near future of urban planers' imaginations. Well, San Francisco is trying it, and the prices are getting higher and higher without a "sweet spot" for some hot blocks.

You can now expect to pay as much as $5.25 and hour at some metered spots in SF. The strategy called “dynamic pricing” is something we've been keeping our eye on at TN because, if it works, it could mean less traffic, more faster (and maybe fewer) car rides into downtowns, and overall smarter transportation systems. The crux of the experiment relies on real-time data about who is parking where and variable rates for different streets to ease congestion and help drivers find elusive public parking spots faster.

The SFMTA launched the pilot project in 2011, using data from parking meters to create an app that lets drivers see where the available spots are in some of the city’s densest neighborhoods. The argument is that if drivers know exactly where to find a place to park, they won’t have to circle in search of a spot, which will make drivers less frustrated, make the streets safer, reduce pollution, and give public transit more room to maneuver. Theoretically, even if it costs more it will still be worth it in time savings. But ... how much more?

Pricing for parking varies according to demand: right now you can pay anywhere from $.25 to over that shocking peak price of $5.25 an hour, depending on where and when you park. That difference in price is meant to spread the parking around; the ultimate goal is making sure that there’s always at least one available spot on the streets involved in the pilot.

The latest rate increase is the seventh since the project launched. Prices can’t go above $6 an hour under the pilot, still far less than a parking lot price. So, what happens if peak streets hit the price ceiling? It's unclear how the city would adapt the SF Park plan.

But it seems to be working. The SF Gate reports that fewer than 2 percent of meters are pushing the price limit now at the temporary maximum price of $5.25. The most common prices are below $2 an hour.

Plus, there are special exceptions to the $6 cap, like big events or ball games. For those, meters can hit $18 an hour. The program is adaptable after all.