San Francisco’s demand-based parking pricing (the pilot was called SFPark)
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Brief summary of this reform
San Francisco sets its parking prices (‘rates’) based on demand (using data on parking occupancy), under its “demand-responsive parking” policy. It raises the price by $0.25 on blocks where average occupancy is above 80%, lowers the price $0.25 on blocks where average occupancy is below 60%, and does not change the price on blocks that hit the target occupancy between 60% and 80%. As a result, parking prices may vary by block, by time of day, and weekday or weekend. Prices are adjusted approximately every quarter.
Why should you care?
This is a sophisticated and much-studied example of demand-based parking price setting (which is a key element of Professor Donald Shoup’s set of parking policy suggestions). Its success has been well-documented in San Francisco.
Demand-based parking pricing in San Francisco did not cease at the end of the SFPark pilot. In fact, it has been expanded and made permanent (but without the use of in-street parking sensors).
Success with on-street parking management has also probably played a role in emboldening the city to finally completely abolish minimum parking requirements across the city in early 2019.
Although the SFPark pilot faced some controversy initially, this soon disappeared. Demand-responsive parking price adjustments have generally proceeded without fuss or controversy since then.
United States of America
Key actor type
City and County of San Francisco
orderly parking (usually for wider benefits too)
San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA)
Is it a model or a warning?
Main parking category
Main parking paradigm shift
City-owned (both on-street and off-street)
Towards more responsiveness to context/market
Adaptive Parking thrust
P: Price parking in the right ways and with the right rates for each place and time
Goals of the reform
“The demand-responsive model sets a clear pricing policy: charge the lowest rates possible without creating a parking shortage.”
More specifically, via https://www.sfmta.com/sites/default/files/reports-and-documents/2021/02/on-street_parking_pricing_policies_-_feb_2_2021.pdf:
Goal 2 of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s (SFMTA) Strategic Plan —“Make transit and other sustainable modes of transportation the most attractive and preferred means of travel”—contains Objective 2.3: “Manage congestion and parking demand to support the Transit First Policy.”
In keeping with this, the SFMTA’s vision and related goals for parking include:
• Make it easy to find parking – Use parking prices to manage demand for parking and thereby achieve a target level of parking availability.
• Ensure a target level of parking availability to achieve SFMTA’s other goals – Making it easy for drivers to quickly find an available parking space will improve safety, Muni performance, and customer experience while reducing double parking, circling, emissions, and parking-related congestion.
• Use parking prices to encourage the use of transit, walking, and biking – Managing demand for parking will provide an incentive for people to use means other than driving.
• Provide a clear, simple, and respectful customer experience – Improve customer service, experience, and convenience when using the SFMTA’s parking system.
• Transparent process – Have a transparent, consistent, rules-based, and data-driven approach for setting parking rates.”
Impetus (what problem, campaign, opportunity or event prompted action?)
The opportunity presented by a $19.8 million federal grant through the Federal Department of Transportation’s Urban Partnership Program was an impetus. This paid for 80 percent of the SFpark pilot.
Detailed description of the reform
San Francisco sets its parking prices (‘rates’) based on demand (using data on parking occupancy), under its “demand-responsive parking” policy.
This means that it “uses data for parking occupancy to find the lowest rate possible to achieve a target level of availability.”
The SFMTA raises the price by $0.25 on blocks where average occupancy is above 80%, lowers the price $0.25 on blocks where average occupancy is below 60%, and does not change the price on blocks that hit the target occupancy between 60% and 80%. As a result, parking prices may vary by block, by time of day, and weekday or weekend. Prices are adjusted approximately every quarter.
This approach applies to commercial and mixed use areas when and where parking demand is high and/or when places of business are open. Pricing is extended to such streets if parking pressure warrants it. Street parking in purely residential areas is not managed in the same way.
The pilot version of this policy was called SFPark, under which the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) successfully implemented demand-responsive pricing, starting in 2011, at 7,000 parking meters, 14 city-managed parking garages and one SFMTA parking lot.
Since late 2017, San Francisco applies demand-based price setting for ALL of the city’s 28,000 on-street parking meters and all of city-operated metered surface parking lots.
Under the SFPark pilot, parking sensors embedded in the street were used to measure parking occupancy. However, the city now primarily uses meter payment data to estimate parking occupancy (https://www.sfmta.com/sites/default/files/reports-and-documents/2018/01/sira-methodology-and-implementation-plan_2014_05-14.pdf).
The maximum price allowed is currently $8.00/hour for car parking spaces.
The price variations and changes are on a per-block basis, where a block includes both sides of the street.
There are also time-of-day price variations using these time periods: Open-Noon; Noon-3pm; 3-6pm; and
6pm-close. Weekday prices may differ from Saturday (and, in some cases, Sunday) prices.
In addition, there are special event prices at on-street spaces near large events that generate spikes in parking demand. These prices are based on the parking demand the event is expected to generate.
San Francisco also used demand-based price setting for on-street motorcycle parking. Metered motorcycle pricing. This works in almost the same way as for car parking. The maximum price allowable for motorcycle meters is one-fifth of the maximum rate for car meters. When occupancy at local motorcycle meters is 80 percent or above, the hourly rate is raised by $0.10. When occupancy is 60 or above but below 80 percent, the hourly rate is not changed. When occupancy is below 60 percent, the hourly rate is lowered by $0.10.
Results or impacts
The pilot of this policy, SFPark, was intensively evaluated.
See the Sources list below.
According to the SFMTA website (https://www.sfmta.com/blog/san-francisco-adopts-demand-responsive-pricing-program-make-parking-easier), “An evaluation of SFpark found that using demand-responsive pricing resulted in:
* Increased business for local businesses: Sales tax revenues rose over 35% in SFpark areas during the compared to less than 20% in the other parts of the city.
* Lower parking rates: Average meter rates were reduced by 4% (down $0.11/hour) in SFpark on-street pilot areas. City-owned garage rates went down by 12% (down $0.42/hour.)
* Decreased parking search time: Reported parking search time went down by 43% under the SFpark pilot.
* Decreased daily vehicle miles traveled: Reduced circling for parking led to a 30% decrease in miles traveled in SFpark areas, benefiting safety, easing congestion and reducing neighborhood pollution.”
Parking violation tickets decreased significantly.
Unfortunately, parking placard abuse somewhat undermines the effectiveness of on-street parking pricing in San Francisco (and in other cities in California).
Sources and acknowledgements
SFMTA Curb Management Team, Parking & Curb Management Group, Streets Division
(2 February 2021) “On-street parking meters, off-street parking lots, special events, motorcycles, and Pay or Permit blocks” https://www.sfmta.com/sites/default/files/reports-and-documents/2021/02/on-street_parking_pricing_policies_-_feb_2_2021.pdf
SFMTA, Demand-Responsive Parking Pricing https://www.sfmta.com/demand-responsive-parking-pricing
This site has links to just about everything we need on this.
Ben Jose (5 December 2017) San Francisco Adopts Demand-Responsive Pricing Program to Make Parking Easier, SFMTA https://www.sfmta.com/blog/san-francisco-adopts-demand-responsive-pricing-program-make-parking-easier
SFPark Evaluation. A large set of evaluation reports and data. https://www.sfmta.com/getting-around/drive-park/demand-responsive-pricing/sfpark-evaluation
Adam Millard-Ball, Rachel R. Weinberger, Robert C. Hampshire (2014) Is the curb 80% full or 20% empty? Assessing the impacts of San Francisco’s parking pricing experiment, Transportation Research Part A 63 (2014) 76–92. https://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tra.2014.02.016
SFPark Overview Video on Vimeo (2 min 50 sec) https://vimeo.com/13867453
The image is by Carlos Felipe Pardo, taken Sept 2014 via Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/carlosfpardo/15092037348
14 Jun 2021