In planning for a demand-responsive pricing based parking management system, involve executive leadership, seek strong intellectual foundations, strike the right balance between complexity and simplicity, and emphasize data collection and project evaluation.

San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s experience in implementing advanced parking management (Interim Results).

Date Posted

SFpark: Putting Theory Into Practice - Post-launch implementation summary and Lessons learned

Summary Information

The SFpark is a pilot project in San Francisco undertaken in 2008 by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA). The primary goal of SFpark is to make it easy to find a parking space. In other words, SFpark aims to manage demand for existing parking towards availability targets so that drivers, when they choose to drive, rarely circle to find parking or double-park. To the extent the right level of parking availability is maintained, everyone benefits. Key features of the project are:

  • 80 percent federally funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation's Urban Partnership Program (a competitive grant process).
  • 8 pilot areas with new policies, technology, and significant data collection.
  • 3 control areas with no new policies or technology but significant data collection.
  • 7,000 metered spaces, or 25 percent of the city's total.
  • 12,250 off-street spaces, or 75 percent of off-street spaces managed by the SFMTA.

Overall goal of SFpark is to collect and disseminate parking availability information and to update a "block-to-block" pricing algorithm every six weeks using "demand responsive rate adjustments" to encourage use of parking garages and increase the availability of on-street parking in high-demand areas. The project helps drivers find spaces with a combination of real-time and static information. Parking way finding signage directs drivers to lots and garages; variable message signs and text messages show which garages have availability; mobile web apps and the region's 511 system show on and off-street parking availability; and an open data feed enables others to display the data as well.

In August 2011, the SFMTA produced a report in the midst of its implementation of the first demand-responsive rate change for both on- and off-street parking. The following lessons learned to date are, therefore, interim – only those gathered during pilot project planning and implementation. At the end of the pilot project in 2013, the lessons from the operation, evolution, and evaluation of the project should expand this section.

Lessons Learned

  • Do not underestimate the scope of work. It is easy to underestimate the scope, magnitude, and technological sophistication necessary to offer real-time parking data and provide demand responsive pricing. Agencies should develop the scope carefully incorporating expectations as well as challenges.
  • Involve executive leadership. Many challenges accompanied planning and implementing a ground-breaking project with complex technology, significant policy changes, and a large amount of discovery and uncertainty. The support of a dedicated executive at the agency was critical, as was having appropriate financial resources.
  • Understand the parking supply. Starting with the maxim that “you can’t manage what you can’t measure,” the SFMTA collected comprehensive data about San Francisco’s publicly available parking supply, both on and off-street, including existing parking regulations. Enabled by data, understanding the existing parking supply characteristics was a critical first step in the planning and implementation of the SFpark pilot project and will be just as important for its evaluation.
  • Seek strong and coherent intellectual foundations. SFpark parking management approach was based on the pioneering academic work of Professor Donald Shoup from University of California, Los Angeles. Those foundations made it easier to develop policies, goals, and tools that were easily communicated and understood by our customers. An academic advisory team offered early guidance and support for the design of SFpark demonstration and how it could offer valuable data for evaluation of outcome.
  • Strike the right balance between complexity and simplicity. SFpark had to balance the potential complexity of managing parking effectively with the need to have something simple enough to be communicated clearly and quickly to customers. It had to strike a similar technological balance between what is desirable and what is feasible.
  • Emphasize data collection and project evaluation. As a federally funded demonstration of a new approach to managing parking, the SFpark project is collecting an unprecedented data set to enable a thorough evaluation of its effectiveness. This improved the project’s credibility among stakeholders.

The SFpark experience emphasizes the need for adequate planning when a demand-responsive pricing based parking management system is considered for implementation. Cities around the world are interested in the common and urgent goals of reducing traffic congestion and transportation related greenhouse gas emissions. To the extent that SFpark successfully manages parking supply and demand, rates, and reduces congestion and emissions, the project is relevant to other cities as well because it is easily replicable. SFpark is expected to improve traffic flow, reduce congestion and greenhouse gas emissions, increase safety for all road users, and enhance quality of life.