Pay to park

Are residents angry at bureaucratic bungling — or just with the loss of free street parking?


The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency has hailed the success of its SFpark program — which uses high-tech meters and demand-variable pricing to manage on-street parking — noting that expired meter citations are down and meter revenue is up. The resulting 11 percent net increase in revenue  is all going to improve Muni. So transit improves, drivers get more spots and fewer tickets — everybody wins.

[CLARIFICATION (2/1): The new meters had an 11 percent net revenue increase compared to the old meters, but overall net revenues from citations and meters was still down by 3 percent.]

But the SFMTA has run into a hornet's nest of opposition with its latest proposal to expand SFpark into the Northeast Mission District, Potrero Hill, Dogpatch, and Mission Bay, largely because the plan involves placing meters on streets where parking is now free. And even those who don't object to paying for parking say the SFMTA has bungled this process.

The problem isn't just what critics say are arrogance and dubious outreach efforts by agency officials. It may be that the SFMTA pursued too many goals at once, mixing them in ways that muddled the message. Or it may just be that charging for parking will always anger drivers, no matter how it's proposed.

The agency wants to discourage driving — particularly cruising for parking, hence SFpark's "Circle Less, Live More" slogan — to speed up Muni and reduce traffic congestion. But that also means charging for street parking so cars won't just sit in those spaces, and that involves a complicated balancing act in mixed use neighborhoods.

Residents, many employers, and commuters want all-day street parking, preferably free and easy. But most business owners want enough parking turnover so their customers can find a spot. City policies call for prioritizing residents' needs, and the SFMTA needs money to fund and expand Muni service.

Meeting all of those needs isn't easy. But over the last couple of months, the SFMTA's effort to expand its successful and popular SFpark program have managed to turn thousands of residents angrily against that program, the agency, and the proposition that people shouldn't expect free parking.



Architect John Lum and artist-designer Miranda Caroligne didn't know each other a couple months ago, but now they're helping to lead a movement that is uniting neighborhood groups in the Mission, Dogpatch, and Potrero Hill against the parking meter proposals.

"You have an agency that is not listening at all to the community. That's fascism!" declares Lum. He's actually an amiable and soft-spoken young guy who employs 10 people at his architecture firm near 17th and Capp streets, but this issue really gets his blood boiling.

And Lum isn't alone, as the Jan. 13 public meeting before an SFMTA hearing officer showed. Not only did everyone who streamed to the microphone voice opposition to the proposals, but they usually did so in angry and accusatory ways, saying it would destroy businesses, punish the poor, and result in conditions that are simply unworkable and intolerable. And they said the SFMTA simply doesn't care.

"If you're a PDR business," Caroligne said, referring to the Production, Distribution, and Repair businesses whose last bastion is some of the targeted areas, "you're never going to get people to work at a place that doesn't have parking...This proposal will push them out."