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MBA: The Right Price for Parking

You might be shocked at how much traffic consists of drivers who have already arrived at their destination but find themselves cruising the streets, searching for an open parking spot. In some city neighborhoods, cruising makes up as much as 40 percent of all traffic. All this unnecessary traffic slows down buses, endangers cyclists and pedestrians, delays other motorists, and produces harmful emissions. The key to eliminating it is to get the price of parking right.

So what's the right price for curbside parking? According to UCLA professor Donald Shoup, author of The High Cost of Free Parking, "the right price is the lowest price you can charge and still have one or two spaces available on each block." Depending on the demand for parking at a given location, the right price could be higher or lower than the static prices you see at traditional meters. You need a dynamic system that adjusts the price based on demand.

The city of San Francisco has been putting Shoup's ideas into practice on an unprecedented scale with its SFpark program, which is set to launch later this week. In addition to strategically adjusting curbside meter rates, SFpark sets prices in city garages to make them an attractive alternative to on-street spots, and distributes real-time information about parking availability to help drivers find open spaces. It is the most ambitious project in the United States to cut traffic and improve quality of life by getting the price of parking right.

Streetfilms would like to thank The Fund for the Environment & Urban Life for making this series possible.


Dr. Donald Shoup:  [00.13] All of these cars are parking free on some of the most valuable land on earth. 


Jay Primus:  [00:19] Parking is at the heart of so many transportation issues. 


Dr. Donald Shoup:  [00:22] The right price for kerb parking is the lowest price you can charge and still have one or two vacant spaces on every block.


Matthew Roth:  [00:28] San Francisco with many thousands of parking spaces, both off-street and on-street, is testing the hypothesis that if you properly manage the spaces you reduce the total amount of cruising, you reduce traffic, you improve quality of life. 


Jay Primus:  [00:48] SFpark is a demonstration of a new approach to managing parking.  The idea is to make it so that your experience as a driver is that there’s almost always a parking space available on every block.  That’s great for drivers and should make driving more predictable, more convenient.  But it’s good for people even who don’t drive. 


Speaker:  [01:04] SFpark provides safer and clearer streets for everyone.  Here’s how it works – newly installed parking sensors detect when a parking space is available.  Drivers will be able to check parking availability and rates online by text message and by smartphone before heading to their destination.


Matthew Roth:  [01:21] The parking managers now with great precision can tell where a vehicle’s parked, how long it’s parked.  They can tell whether that the driver of that vehicle is paying for it.  They can get a much better sense of where the rate for parking should be.  If you have a scarce resource, parking spaces, and you have a lot of demand for that resource, the best way to manage that is to price it properly, cos it’s simple economic principle.


Jay Primus:  [01:45] If there’s a block now that is completely full but just two blocks away that has a few spaces open, we’re going to increase prices just a little bit on the block that’s full and lower them on the block that has open spaces.  All we need is just one or two people to park on that block with the open spaces to achieve the availability target that we’re looking for. 



Jay Primus:  [02:06] Right now there are garages and lots that it’s more expensive than it is on the streets so people have every financial incentive to circle around looking for parking which is exactly what we don’t want to happen.  So we’ll be lowering prices at garages and lots to make those relatively more attractive.  The whole goal is to get people off the streets and matched up with a parking space as quickly as possible. 


Matthew Roth:  [02:24] Studies show in some cities like New York City and parts of San Francisco you can have 15 to 40% of all of the local traffic is people looking for a spot, cruising for parking, which is incredibly inefficient.


Jay Primus:  [02:37] This is the first time that this approach to parking management has been done on such a large scale in such a carefully monitored environment.  There is a tremendous emphasis on data collection and evaluation to really evaluate just how well SFpark delivers the benefits we expect for drivers, for the environment, for transit and so on. 


Matthew Roth:  [02:54] If you get the parking right, then you improve the entire neighbourhood. 


Dr. Donald Shoup:  [02:59] Well when people look back 50 years from now they’ll see that one of the major benefits of getting the price of parking right was to reduce the carbon emissions from all of this cruising that’s going on all over the world.   


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  • MRN

    SFPark has launched?

  • Ty

    In NYC, I think simply enforcing the NY State registration and licensing law would go a long long long way...

    I'd day at least 20-30% of my neighborhood's streets are filled with NC, VA, FL, PA and NJ plates. These aren't visitors.

    Other than the simple break of the law (and not paying the registration and road taxes to the appropriate state) -- I'm sure their insurance companies... if they have insurance... would consider this insurance fraud and not pay a claim if they discovered they have been falsifying their primary residence.

  • Edpino

    Lets do it in NYC I also agree with TY THERE IS TOO MUCH ABUSE

  • sfosparky

    I recently borrowed some books on traffic engineering from the library. Among the interesting tidbits therein, it directed engineers to use 185 square-feet per car when calculating the space required for a parking lot, and to increase that to 240 square feet to include access ways and the like.

    Given this consumption of space relative to pedestrians or bicycles, I'd say that it's well past time to start making automobilists pay for the space their cars consume when idle…(?)

  • Anonymous

    This week or next I believe.

  • icarus12

    Fascinating to see if SFPark actually lowers parking rates on some streets for parts of the day. The problem: SF Municipal Transit Authority is corrupt to the bone, using parking tickets to raise revenue rather than regulate parking availability. Think they are going to reduce rates on any meter? No, they will raise where they can and leave the unused meters unattended. Every weekday morning there are blocks of unused metered spaces near Polk Street. Drivers and neighbors park a couple of blocks farther away and pay nothing. My prediction: this misuse of resources will continue.

  • Tidbits

    This is a great way to make drivers pay their fair share while also providing a service! All for it!

  • Anonymous

    I think it's closer to 350 square feet. You can measure this on Google Maps: find a parking lot, count the spaces, and measure the surface area.

  • jd

    I'm still skeptical that this whole program will reduce driving, which, by the way, I think should be the real ultimate goal. And how you reduce driving -- be it by pricing parking differently or otherwise -- doesn't really matter, as long as you reduce it. And I think we're losing sight of that here.

    I think this program will encourage driving since now people know they can count on a space to park rather than having to drive around for blocks and blocks looking for parking. And sure, it costs a little more, but I think most people in SF have enough money that paying a little extra won't discourage them. Or at least it certainly won't offset the convenience of having guaranteed parking.

    If 40% (or whatever) of drivers are looking for parking, my response would be: why the hell aren't we giving them alternatives to driving? That is the real question we are avoiding with this whole program: why are people even needing to drive in the first place.

    I just feel like we keep putting money into car infrastructure (and such a ridiculously high tech solution, nonetheless) when we should be putting that money into improving public transit, bicycle/pedestrian infrastructure, and the livability of our cities. This seems like a backwards way to do what we really want to do.

  • Eric

    "If 40% (or whatever) of drivers are looking for parking, my response would be: why the hell aren't we giving them alternatives to driving?"

    As long as parking is free or dirt cheap, the alternatives don't matter. Folks will spend an inordinate amount of time to take advantage of a free resource over a $2 alternative (the MTA).

    Then there are the drivers forced to move their cars for alternate side street cleaning. I used to drive around the UES for up to an hour after work, twice a week, just to move my car to legal spot for the next couple days. I'm sure much of the side street traffic is doing the same on those days.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1298534249 Kevin Thomas Holliday

    If you like SFpark, then join the Shoupistas on FaceBook.


  • Guest

    The price is FREE with my granny's disabled placard.

  • Erwan

    Totally agree with JD's comment : this program seems attractive at first but it's ridiculous. It's a waste of money. This program takes the amount of cars in our streets for granted.

    No, there are just too many cars and people need to reduce their car use, period! I say that even more easily that, myself, before I became an ecologist and very critical on the car-system, used to borrow my mom's car sometimes when I had to work in "remote" places of the city. One day, it took me 45 minutes before I found a parking space. Forty-Five Fucking minutes. It drove me insane. That day I realized it was totally ridiculous and chose to get a proper, clean, well-working bike and use public transportation. That day I (almost) stopped driving. That day I became carfree. That day I became an anti-car activist.

    So let's freaking reduce parking space and -please- don't make it more convenient.

  • Anonymous

    Does anyone have a source / citation as a reference for this?

    'You might be shocked at how much traffic consists of drivers who have
    already arrived at their destination but find themselves cruising the
    streets, searching for an open parking spot. In some city neighborhoods,
    cruising makes up as much as 40 percent of all traffic.'

  • LD_Planner

    Nice video, but these solutions don't address the larger problem of too many vehicles and parking spaces.

    Rather than adjust pricing so that it's "the lowest price with 2 spots available per block", price should be set at "the highest price that still gets occupied 50%" or something along those lines.

  • Sfparkripoff

    "The SFpark Program did not create new parking spaces out of thin air.  SFpark took the same spaces that were always available and priced them out of reach for low income motorists. Then, the program created a new generation of $100,000 city workers to manage the whole scheme. 
    The government should not be profiting off of citizens. If
    the city of San Francisco needs money to implement a new project idea,
    it's their responsibility to go to the citizens with a proposal to be
    voted on.? Robbing taxpayers to pay the salaries and pensions of city workers is criminal."