Then Why Spend $20,000,000 in San Francisco

In the last few posts I have been mulling over SFPark and its trials in the Bay area. I have elicited comments from Professor Donald Shoup, who can be said to be the father of the program. At least they are using his book as their source code and he sits on the advisory board.

As you can see from the posts above I am critical as to how SFpark is communicating price changes to drivers and that if drivers don’t get the price differences behavior change will not take place.

Don defends his position and the program and then let me have this pithy quote:

Everyone won’t go online to look at parking prices, but they don’t need to. Small changes by a few savvy parkers will improve  life  for almost everyone. The point of SFpark is to let drivers use the street in a much better way. By reducing the amount of cruising for underpriced curb parking, SFpark will make vehicle trips shorter, which will reduce vmt and help the muni run more efficiently. If SFpark triggers any mode shifts, it will do so indirectly, by letting transit run faster.

Ahh, so we need to subtly change the behavior of a few ‘savvy parkers’ and all will be right with the world.  Those “savvy parkers” Don goes on, will quickly understand where pricing is lower and change their behavior accordingly. Cool.

Now, if that’s the case, why do we need expensive in ground sensors, fancy web sites,  cell phone apps, maps, complex databases and high paid bureaucrats to run the program. Why not hire some folks who know about parking, take some observations, maybe hire a few college students to do the survey, perhaps with clipboards and stop watches, kinda like Don did for his book, throw in some price changes in areas where demand is low, raise prices where demand is high, put a list of streets and prices on the internet, and let nature take its course. A few ‘savvy parkers’ will get the idea, they will change their behavior, and then space will free up for the luddites who simply want to park next to Starbucks, cruising will reduce, pollution will decline, and well, you know.

Sure new meters might be in order, but San Francisco was replacing its meters with online devices anyway.

Why spend the $20,000,000 SFpark got from the Feds?  The above could have been done for what, half a mil, tops, using the resources that already existed in the SFMTA parking office.This doesn’t mean Shoup’s theories are wrong. Far from it. They are most likely spot on. Raise prices, change behavior. Makes sense to me. I’m just wondering about the execution.

In his quote Don acknowledges that the change in behavior needs only to be in a small number of parkers. We know that’s true. Studies have shown that if only 10% of the drivers on most freeways were to carpool, there would be no traffic jams. Even if the number was twice that to affect parking issues in metropolitan areas surely the folks who cared about how much they paid would sort out the problem.

I”m not writing the next paragraph. There are folks in San Francisco who are out for my hide anyway, plus son Andy and co just moved up there. No need to stir the pot any more.


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