Photo by niallkennedy on Flickr.

San Francisco is ready to roll out demand-responsive parking prices, a move that the city hopes will reduce congestion and allow transit vehicles to move faster.

San Francisco will adjust parking meter and garage parking prices based on measured demand. The District has a similar policy for adjusting prices in the Columbia Heights and ballpark “performance parking” districts. Unlike the District, San Francisco clearly described the method they will use to make the adjustments.

On-street metered blocks will have prices vary by time of day, in three or four daily meter periods. Though some meters open earlier and others run later into the night, all meters will change between the morning, afternoon, early evening, and late evening periods at the same time for customer convenience.

Some blocks serve the mid-day office crowd, while other blocks serve daytime tourists, other serve shoppers parking later in the day, and others late night entertainment.

The citywide meter periods will be

  1. opening (either 7am or 9am) to noon
  2. noon to 3pm
  3. 3pm to 7pm
  4. 7pm to closing

Most San Francisco parking meters operate from 9am to 6pm, some from 7am to 6pm or 7pm, and some from 7am to 11pm. Rates will remain the same within each individual meter period. If the time you pay for is within two different meter periods, the meter will prorate your charge accordingly.

For each block side and meter period, officials will adjust on-street meters according to the number of cars parked on that block during that period. If more than 85% of the spaces are taken, the price will increase. If fewer than 65% of the spaces are taken, the price will fall.

The city is simplifying the rate system for municipal garages and will eliminate many special rates such as flat-fee evening parking. Instead, all garages will have an adjustable hourly rate for the different periods. Monthly and daily rates will be based on multiplying factors by the hourly rates. For example, a monthly parking permit might be made available for the cost of 10 full days of parking.

The city will adjust prices no more than once a month and will publish new rates a week in advance on the SFMTA and SFpark websites.

San Francisco is going to be the big test of whether a city can handle adjustable rates. The city already has the parking sensors, computer tracking equipment, dedicated staff, and political will.

Communicating the process for adjusting prices in advance is an important step DC neglected when rolling out its similar demand-based performance parking program. Admittedly, DDOT did not have Federal funding to purchase occupancy sensors, they did not appear to dedicate full-time staff, and the approval for parking rate adjustments appears to have been influenced by neighborhood approval, rather than market demand.

The District should borrow from San Francisco and communicate a clear policy for how often parking meter occupancy will be observed, and what occupancy levels will result in changes to meter prices.

Michael Perkins blogs about Metro operations and fares, performance parking, and any other government and economics information he finds on the Web. He lives with his wife and two children in Arlington, Virginia.