Pursue technology based, high risk policies incrementally to better manage likely organizational and technological challenges.

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

The SFpark pilot project of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) uses a demand-based approach to adjusting parking rates at metered parking spaces in the SFpark pilot areas and at SFpark garages. SFpark's combination of time-of-day demand-responsive pricing and off-peak discounts at garages is expected to reduce circling and double-parking, as well as influence when and how people choose to travel. Lessons learned from the SFpark implementation and operations are presented below.

  • Enforce parking policies effectively. Parking policies require effective enforcement. Without it, the benefit of any policy change is likely to be low.
  • Be cognizant of urgency associated with federally funded projects. Federal project deadlines created an urgency that is uncommon in public projects and gave SFMTA aggressive goals to work towards.
  • Beware that parking management technologies may require customization. The technology used in SFpark is not plug-and-play. Implementing SFpark required a lot of hand coding for different technologies to work together. As this field and market matures, this problem will likely diminish, but for now this will remain an issue for any city.
  • Expect organizational changes and challenges. Creating the SFpark data management system and then preparing to run a real-time information service required several significant changes within SFMTA as an organization. From a technical perspective, it has challenged the SFMTA to determine the best ways to use, support, and maintain the system with the rigor that is required for providing a high-availability data service.
  • Prepare for technological failures. Most technology used did not meet SFMTA's initial expectations. In particular, the accuracy and reliability of parking sensors is not perfect, which limits the possibilities of what can be done with that data. However, it is unlikely that a city with a high and/or unpredictable degree of non-payment can do demand-responsive pricing or offer real-time parking availability data without parking sensors. Parking sensor data is new, subtle, and complex. Over the next several years parking managers will be establishing new ways to understand and use that data.
  • Pursue technology based, high risk projects incrementally. Pursuing SFpark on a pilot basis was a sound approach. To have attempted this change all at once citywide would have had an unacceptably high risk of failure.

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 also relevant to other cities 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.