San Francisco, with a large population crammed into a very small footprint, can be notoriously hard to park in. But, as it's also one of the tech-savviest cities in the country, they've come up with a solution to make it easier to find a place to leave your car and to better value parking places. Launched last week, it's called SFPark, and its a website and mobile app that lets you see where parking spots are available in eight test neighborhoods around the city. More importantly, the city is now employing dynamic pricing: The more in-demand spots are on a street, the more they cost. It's called supply and demand, folks, and get ready for it to start governing your parking spots as this idea catches on. Cities will no longer give you real estate for your car for free.
The program will work with by using a series of magnetometers that measure whether or not a car is in a space. It currently covers 7,000 of the city’s 28,800 metered spaces and 12,250 public garage spaces. For now, the pricing is relatively benign, but as the city gathers data about where and when people want to park, we should assume that the rates will rise in high-traffic areas.
Parking, in general, is one of the harder nuts to crack of urban design. All that public real estate is being leased out for basically peanuts (especially at night, when its free). This skews the true cost of owning and driving a car, while also allowing people to occupy a spot all day for very little money. Just think of the difference in cost between a city-subsided spot and one in a private garage. This makes congestion worse, as everyone thinks they can drive their car into a city and park for nearly free as long as they drive around enough. But those spots are in high demand and should priced according to the market for them. The UCLA professor Donald Shoup, author of a book called The High Cost of Free Parking, has argued that we need to price spots more highly: "The right price is the lowest price you can charge and still have one or two spaces available on each block." Here's a video from Streetsblog about SFPark and this theory:
If you live in San Francisco (or any number of other cities that will soon adopt this), prepare to have parking rates raised to a point where you're encouraged to take the bus or bike. But don't get too cocky, bikers. As more people bike, those bike racks and sign posts are going to become crowded, too. Don't think cities won't start charging for those scarce resources, either.
[Photo from Flickr user Swanksalot]