San Francisco Mayor London Breed says she has a plan to alleviate traffic on SF’s streets, but it will cost you—literally. The mayor wants to enforce parking meters on evenings and Sundays, breaking a longstanding taboo in hopes that it will, in turn, break gridlock.
On Tuesday, Breed proposed a series of traffic and transit reforms, the metering proposal among them. Meters in the city require payment from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, with most meters turned off entirely on Sundays. But the mayor argues that with businesses citywide still open and generating traffic during those times, it’s necessary to start charging around the clock.
“When meters turn off during business hours, vehicles will stay parked, limiting others from coming to that space,” the mayor says in a letter to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s board
She adds, “Our population is growing, yet our roads cannot get any wider.”
Breed is quick to say she’s not proposing a citywide change, noting that City Hall will not want to tamper with parking options for those who attend church on Sunday mornings or in other places where “there is not the need to generate additional turnover.”
There are already some places in SF where the meters operate during off hours, like parking along the Embarcadero or at Fisherman’s Wharf on Sundays.
Still, the unmetered hours, and particularly the Sunday prohibition, have been fairly consistent, and most other Bay Area cities observe a similar schedule.
In the same missive, Breed pushed the city’s transit agency to move faster on the idea of congestion pricing—i.e., a schedule that charges drivers more to drive on busy streets during the busiest hours, either using a toll system or by raising rates on parking meters during those times.
The suggestion has been in the works for ages—writing about similar experiments in New York City and Washington DC, the Associated Press predicted that SF “wasn’t far behind,” but that story dates to 2009.
The city’s transit bodies were supposed to formulate a congestion plan by the end of this year, but now Breed has asked them to get their ideas in order by August.
Both of these ideas echo the proposals of UCLA professor of urban planning Donald Shoup whose 2005 book, The High Cost of Free Parking, has helped push cities to charge more to park and to use the cost as a tool for directing driver behavior.
Breed paraphrased Shoup’s oft-repeated idea of the “Goldilocks principle” of pricing parking neither too low nor too high, noting, “If the rate is set too high, spots will be empty. If the rate is too low, they will all be full.”
Shoup told Curbed SF in 2016 that it costs the city $38,000 to create a single parking space, arguing that it’s bad planning and bad math not to charge more. Meanwhile, University of Maryland, Baltimore County Professor of Public Policy John Rennie Short testifies that similar pricing arcana “succeeded in cities [like] London, Singapore, and Stockholm.”
The major criticism facing such reforms is that it costs a lot to drive in SF as it is. While one of the side benefits of charging more is that it will incentivize cheaper public transit options, working class people in particularly don’t always have the option of giving up their own wheels and rolling the dice on Muni every morning.
Last year, a San Francisco Chamber of Commerce-commissioned phone survey of 500 voters found that 51 percent of city residents are “strongly opposed” to the idea, and another 14 percent said they are “somewhat opposed.”
A San Francisco County Transportation Authority study from 2010 notes that two-thirds of drivers in Stockholm were against the pricing scheme before it began, but “public support eventually rose to two-thirds as people came to understand the policy.” SF City Hall backers remain confident they can similarly goose public sentiment once a concrete plan is before them.
Correction: A quote from Associated Press initially used in this story was removed.