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The parking god is coming to San Francisco

Mark Albertson,

If you’ve ever driven a car in San Francisco, you have probably experienced the ultimate frustration. Parking on a city street is about as easy as finding a happy meter cop. But the all-knowing computer is about to make San Francisco’s parking experience very different.

San Francisco will soon roll out an interesting new high-tech twist in parking management. The city is piloting a program, called SFpark, to feed live data from 8,300 wireless parking sensors that will keep track of where the empty spaces are (for about 20% of the spaces in the city). The sensors are also installed at the entrances and exits of city-owned parking garages, so data will be constantly available from there as well.

Motorists will be able to find available parking space information on the program’s website, via smartphone apps, the 511 system, text message, or special electronic signs being installed around San Francisco.

Of course, you can’t just track the empty space data. You’ve got to have a way to generate revenue too, and this is where the program has run into local controversy. In parallel with the parking sensors, there are 5,100 new “smart” meters being installed which will allow the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency (SFMTA) to change hourly parking prices based on demand.

Want to ease your Escalade into a space in the Mission District? Maybe that’s worth $2.00 per hour on a Friday afternoon. Want to push your Prius into a South of Market space just before first pitch at a Giants game? That might set you back $6.00 per hour. And tucked in the fine print on the pilot program’s website is the little comment that for some special events in the city, the cost “may exceed $6 per hour.”

Through the miracle of technology, city agencies now have the ability to not just see where the parking spaces are, but control the pricing market as well. That’s real power, and you can bet there are plenty of other large cities throughout the country who will be watching San Francisco’s program very closely in the months ahead.