Friday, November 1, 2013

Transportation innovations, part II (smart parking meters)

What is wrong with this picture?

The answer is there are many parking spaces sitting idle.  This photo was taken in San Francisco, roughly at Turk and Gough.  Why are these spaces sitting idle?  The answer is shown in the photo below:
Now, $1 per hour is not a lot by San Francisco standards, but given that demand curves slope downward, reducing this amount would get people to park there.

The parking meters shown in these photos are part of the innovative SF Park program.  (In the top photo, you can that these meters have the SF Park logo on them.)  The main objective of this program is to ensure 15% vacancy at for all blocks with SF Park meters.  This in turn will lower "cruising", that is, people driving around looking for a spot, and this will save time and lower congestion.

However as my photos reveal, these "smart" meters, which in theory have prices that adjust to meet demand, are not really that smart.  Rather than achieving 15% vacancy, the meters on Turk achieve nearly 100% vacancy every time I am on that street.

I believe the main problem here is that the meters don't adjust fast enough.  Far from adjusting prices in real time, the meters adjust only rather infrequently.  I've noticed this problem on Turk for weeks and the price still has not fallen far enough to encourage many customers.

Despite the failures of the program on this one street, in general I am a huge fan of the idea.  I have been able to find parking in other neighborhoods where parking in the past has been much harder to find.  I hope that the longer the program runs, the better they will get at working out these kinks.

Meanwhile, there is interesting political opposition to this program.  For more details on this program, including opposition, as well as successes, check out the excellent sf.streetsblog posts on this topic.