San Francisco's plan to track the availability of metered parking spots and adjust prices based on demand can be likened to the Goldilocks and the Three Bears adage: They shouldn't be too high, they shouldn't be too low, but "just right."

In a pilot project mainly funded by the federal government, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), which oversees the Municipal Railway (Muni) and all the city's surface transportation, will start installing 8,300 wireless parking sensors this summer. The goal of the demand-responsive pricing project is to even out parking availability, thereby reducing the need to circle while driving. Less driving would consequently reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

"It's very appropriate for the federal government to sponsor this research, because every city on earth can learn from it," said Donald Shoup, professor of urban planning at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and author of The High Cost of Free Parking. "You can't manage what you can't measure, and that better management will have a whole cascade of benefits."

To help evaluate demand trends, the majority of the sensors will be placed at metered parking spaces, while some others will be installed at entrances and exits of city-owned garages and in unmetered spaces. The sensors' installation requires no construction, as they'll be fixed to the pavement with an epoxy, according to SFpark, the SFMTA's parking management system.

"SFpark is based on the principle that if parking prices are set just right, at least one parking space will be available on every metered block," according to the SFpark website. "Moving away from a one-size-fits-all approach to parking prices will mean that some people will choose to park a few blocks away from their destination, to drive at different times, to combine multiple trips into one journey or to choose another way to make the trip, such as public transportation."

Parking Tickets to Decrease?

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Karen Wilkinson  | 

Karen is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.