Demand-based pricing: Could it help your city free up scarce street parking?

San Francisco certainly isn't the only city with scarce street parking, but the degree of difficulty for residents and visitors to find a spot in many parts of the city persuaded the city's Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) to try a different approach: adjusting parking rates at the meter depending on demand, location and time of day to ensure at least some spots are available throughout the city. It may be a tool your city can use — and increased revenues can be the result, as the story below explains. And it also makes sense that fewer drivers circling blocks and neighborhoods in their search for parking should help reduce traffic congestion and vehicle emissions. — Doug Peeples


San Francisco has had a pilot program underway for about five years, what SFMTA refers to as 'demand responsive parking,' that covers about 25% of the city's parking meters. The agency's board recently voted to expand the program throughout the city based on the results of the pilot.

While there has been some public grumbling about higher parking rates that could eventually top out at $8 per hour in some areas, the program is expected to provide benefits for both drivers and the local economy, according to an NBC news report.

How it works

The meters drivers use most will charge higher hourly rates, while those that aren't used as often could charge as little as the 50 cents per hour minimum. The intent is to ensure that at least some parking is available everywhere in the city.

As planners discovered during the pilot program, it has been easier for drivers to find parking spots. Another outcome is that because more parking was available sales tax revenues increased in those areas.

Planners and the city have been careful to explain as they publicize the program that initial price increases would be no more than 25 cents per hour with adjustments every three months — and that it could be years before meters began charging the maximum fee of $8.

Other cities are doing it, too
San Francisco isn't the only city that hit on demand-based pricing as a way to increase parking availability in areas where it's hard to find. The Washington, D.C., District Department of Transportation began its pilot program in October 2016 and Baltimore began using demand-based parking pricing in blocks in its Central Business District in the summer of this year. Boston recently initiated a similar pricing pilot in its busy Black Bay and Seaport areas to reduce the amount of driving people need to do to find parking.

In all cases, rate adjustments are made slowly and are well-publicized. For example. Baltimore's rates will be adjusted up or down every six months in increments of 25 cents.

Doug Peeples is a Portland, Oregon-based writer specializing in technology and energy. Follow @smartccouncil on Twitter.