San Francisco sets parking rates on its 28,000 meters based on the demand throughout the day — rising during peak times and falling during lulls.
Cost-conscious drivers in San Francisco may want to think twice before pulling into that parking space on an unusually busy downtown street in the Financial District.
Like so much of life in cities now, no two parking spaces are necessarily equal. As of December, San Francisco has transitioned its SFpark pilot into a citywide program to set rates on all 28,000 parking spaces on public streets and 14 city-operated garages. The plan prices parking based on demand — not unlike the approach used by airlines to set fares or ride-hailing apps to set the price of a trip.
“Demand-responsive pricing,” as the concept is known, means “prices could fluctuate block by block, time-band by time-band, and then weekday versus weekend,” said Hank Wilson, parking policy manager for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA).
The new approach to setting parking rates in San Francisco based on demand is not intended as an effort to raise parking revenue, officials stress. In fact, the new system will likely be revenue neutral because rates on many streets and in garages will likely drop. No meter has reached the $8-per-hour cap.
“Interestingly, because we were adjusting rates based on demand — and that meant that in a lot of cases (rates) went down — overall, average parking rates actually went down over the course of the pilot,” said Wilson.
The dynamic pricing system pilot program ran from 2011 to 2013 and affected 25 percent of the city’s metered spaces and garages. Each day was split into three pricing time-bands: 9 a.m. to noon, Noon to 3 p.m. and 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Weekday and weekend prices were also set separately. Which means, for example, meters on the 1600 block of Post Street could have a different parking rate between the morning and afternoon. Average meter rates fell 4 percent, while city-owned garage rates dropped 12 percent during the pilot project, the city reported.
“Prices were adjusted intentionally very gradually, every six or eight weeks, by 25 cents an hour,” Wilson explained. “And the way that we set prices was we measured demand within those time-bands, by block and by weekday and weekend. And had essentially occupancy ranges that would trigger a rate adjustment.”
Ideally, a block would be “relatively full,” but not so full that drivers are circling looking for parking. The target range was set at 60 to 80 percent occupancy. Today, the way the system works is if occupancy is above 80 percent, the parking rate will climb 25 cents. If occupancy is between 60 percent to 80 percent, the price remains the same, and if occupancy drops below 60 percent, it drops 25 cents.