San Fran Launches Parking Meters With Supply And Demand Based Pricing

That little love bubble known as San Francisco is at it again, introducing new “smart” parking meters that, among their many innovations, change their prices based on supply and demand.

The meters will accept credit cards. You will also be able to look for an open parking space using your computer or smartphone. Data on parking availability will also be available via 511, text messaging, signs, and new electronic display signs at high-volume spots throughout San Fran.

As for the price fluctuation, the website says prices will never change more than 50 cents at a time, and never more than once a month.

What do you think? Do you want smart parking meters in your town? Sound off in the comments.

[SF Park via Engadget]


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  1. GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

    Well, on the plus side, I see a lot of upcoming Consumerist posts about skimmers on parking meters.

    • raydee wandered off on a tangent and got lost says:

      man, i was thinking the very same thing. Would these meters have any sort of security cameras?

  2. digital0verdose says:

    Very cool. I completely support this. Added functionality and demand based pricing. Very smart move.

    I just hope they don’t apply the demand based pricing to spots in front of doctor offices, vet clinics and areas where easy parking is expected due to similar businesses.

    • The Marionette says:

      Well the probably will since a lot of people will try to park in the spots during events if they’re convenient. But then again that’s the company’s responsibility to put a sign saying “Parking for (insert place) customers only. Violators will be towed, etc etc”

  3. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    Having read the information on their site regarding price fluctuations:

    I really do hope the per hour fluctuations on meters does not occur while your car is parked at the meter. That would be hellish.

    • Rectilinear Propagation says:

      Since you have to pay for your parking time up front I don’t see how that could happen. They’d have to purposefully code the thing so that it could decide that you hadn’t paid enough before the timer went to zero.

  4. qwickone says:

    I don’t get why the pricing only changes once a month. Shouldn’t it change more often? Maybe every 30 min or 1 hour? I would hate it if I lived there, I think, but it makes total sense.

    • Anonymously says:

      I figured it would change real-time as spots filled up. The first spot in a block would cost a quarter while the final spot would cost $5 (or something like that). That way the person that really needed the spot badly enough to pay $5 gets it. Probably too confusing though.

      • clauclauclaudia says:

        This is what I figured too. But then I suppose it would be a bit too lottery-like for people buying essentially the same service. I suppose if it changed when you went back to feed the meter…

        At any rate, electronic parking availability info would be an awesome benefit to this kind of system.

    • longdvsn says:

      it makes more sense to change it regularly. Maybe during business hours people pay more if they want that spot right outside their building. But it could be cheaper from 6-10pm (or whenever they stop checking meters) as there are probably fewer people parking there.

    • sonneillon says:

      They probably price to macro trends and I imagine have different prices based on days, or at least it should. A Friday is going to cost more than a Sunday (although that may cost nothing in most cities) I think this is an awesome way to do metered parking. Also thank god they have started using credit cards. I hope DC picks up on this I’ll even pay a 2 percent convenience charge. I’m tired of driving to DC and having to counterbalance the quarters I’m going to use to avoid leaning.

      • Pax says:

        My city – a little wee thing of only ~140,000 people – already takes credit cards for the maybe ~500 or so metered spaces downtown. The spaces are just marked by number, you go to a kiosk (should be one within 30-40 feet of any given space) and pay, either by coin or by credit card, for up to 2 hours at a time. A little ticket prints out, you go back to your car and place it on the dashboard where it can be seen and read. ^_^

        • FredKlein says:

          And when you get back to your car, you find a cop writing you a ticket.

          • Pax says:

            No, it really doesn’t work that way.

            First off, the kiosk is not that far from wherever your car will be; if you see a cop writing a ticket whle at the kiosk, just call out to them: “Excuse me officer, but that’s my car, and I’m over here paying for time in that spot right now.”

            And even if the cop was in a bad enough mood to write the ticket anyway? The slip you get from the kiosk has a timestamp on it, showing when you paid. And that means you have an air-tight, automatic defense when you challenge the ticket in court.

            • FredKlein says:

              No, it really doesn’t work that way.

              Yes, it does.

              “Man Receives Ticket While Walking From Car To Parking Meter”

              • Pax says:

                Note, though: in only eight days, having disputed the ticket by mail … it was withdrawn, and no fine had to be paid. Which outcome I pretty much covered in the final paragraph of the comment you’ve replied to. ^_^

                • FredKlein says:

                  But it can happen… because it has happened.

                  Oh, and No fine needed to be paid… this time. If it happened once, it’ll happen again.

            • FredKlein says:

              And even if the cop was in a bad enough mood to write the ticket anyway? The slip you get from the kiosk has a timestamp on it, showing when you paid. And that means you have an air-tight, automatic defense when you challenge the ticket in court.

              Quite frankly most people would lose way more than a parking ticket’s worth of $ by skipping work to go to court. Will they be reimbursed? Nope.

              • Pax says:

                Why would you skip more than an hour’s worth of work? The courthouse is right here in the city. (There’s three of them, actually; a criminal court, a civil court, and a court that specialises in youth-related cases.)

                • FredKlein says:

                  Maybe you don’t work in the city? Maybe you need to get there early to get through security? Maybe the previous case went long, so yours starts late?

  5. pantheonoutcast says:

    “You will also be able to look for an open parking space using your computer or smartphone. Data on parking availability will also be available via 511, text messaging, signs, and new electronic display signs at high-volume spots throughout San Fran.”

    Yeah, that’s what we need – more distractions while the ADD generation is driving.

  6. lymer says:

    This is actually really cool. Way to go San Francisco.

  7. CharlesFarley says:

    What if government spent based on the supply of actual tax dollars available?

  8. Brandroid says:

    I would hate to go somewhere to park with no clue in advance how much I’d have to pay for it.

    • tape says:

      I read the linked SF Park website for you, no need to thank me.

      “meter pricing can range from between 25 cents an hour to a maximum of $6.00 an hour”

  9. pinteresque says:

    “Data on parking availability will also be available via 511, text messaging, signs, and new electronic display signs at high-volume spots throughout San Fran.”

    That’s assuming, of course, that the people parked in the spots they’re keeping tabs on actually paid for them, right? Or is there some sort of technical jiggery-pokery to make sure there isn’t an actual car in the actual spot the spreadsheet says is empty.

    • AnonymousCoward says:

      Most modern meters can tell if a car is parked in the space. They’ve been able to do that for at least 10 years.

      • clauclauclaudia says:

        I noticed this for the first time this week, near Boston. A parked car at a zero-ed meter which had a blinking red light. I’m not sure whether the light was to alert a ticketer or it was also contacting the mothership.

  10. backinpgh says:

    I was reading an article in Wired that suggested that higher parking rates at high demand times would hopefully encourage more people to utilize mass transit. So yes higher parking rates are annoying but if you hate it that much, take the bus. Yay!

    • Dory says:

      I also really like the idea that, when there’s only one spot left on the entire block, it goes to the person who REALLY REALLY NEEDS TO PARK NOW OH MY GOD and is willing to pay a premium to park there, as opposed to somebody who could easily park elsewhere.

    • Tim says:

      Well, not just mass transit use. It could encourage people to park farther away from the busiest areas, or to use a garage, or something along those lines. Basically, the idea is to discourage people from parking if they don’t need to. If they need to, they’ll still park, which is good.

      Actually, I guess the larger purpose to it is to make the best use of the limited parking space. Keep it something like 90% full so that you’re using almost all of the space, but there’s also space available for people to use.

    • Enduro says:

      I’m all for mass transit and wish my city had anything (the “big 3” killed it here years before my birth) but isn’t it price gouging to raise the price like this?

  11. sevatt says:

    This is the same thing Enron did to California several years ago. When the supply of energy was low, they raised the prices. Would you like it if all public bathrooms had a price on them that changed depending on if you needed to use the bathroom? The parking spots are “owned” by the public, to be “used” by the public. Price fixing so only the rich can park in the public locations is vile.

    • jurupa says:

      Price fixing? Where the hell did you get that from? By the way your Enron argument is mute as I believe that happen under Davis who I believe encouraged Enron to raise their prices when demand was low. It was one of the many reasons why he got kicked out of office.

    • AnonymousCoward says:

      That would be a valid point if city owned parking wasn’t *way* cheaper than privately owned parking. At a max of $6/hour it will still be way cheaper than the private lots.

  12. XTREME TOW says:

    Alternate Headline:
    “Go to San Francisco, and you’ll get reamed in your Parking Spot.”

  13. sevatt says:

    What does “prices will never change more than 50 cents at a time” mean? Is that for the hourly rate? Or for the 15 minute rate? Or for the all day rate? The definition will wildly impact on the total cost of parking.

  14. kutsuwamushi says:


    I can’t imagine them charging less for parking in my town. It’s already fairly affordable. Adding “smart parking meters” would just end up raising the prices at certain times.

    And I don’t think there’d be much noticeable benefit. Fifty cents more isn’t going to deter people who want to shop or eat; it’s an occasional expense. However, people who work downtown-who mostly aren’t making that much-would quickly end up feeling the pain. Many of them don’t have an option other than to park at the meters, because of lack of affordable alternate parking and a town with crap public transportation.

    I’d only support it if they finally came up with a place for employees of downtown businesses to park that didn’t cost a billion dollars.

  15. common_sense84 says:

    That is nothing but price gouging. Parking is first come first serve. There is no supply and demand. People who have to park have to pay.

    This is absurd.

  16. thisisit says:

    I totally oppose this, as I oppose the nazi-militancy with which parking rules are enforced.

    Lack of parking is due 100% to bad city planning, and the city government not requiring enough garages from builders. Living in the Wash. DC which has horrendous traffic and even worse parking availability, i hate these ponzy schemes city governments are coming up with to try to make more money from drivers.

    What this is all boils down to is that all these new ideas do nothing about improving the availability of parking. At the end of the day I still need to park my car, and every day i need to pay more and more to be able to do it.

    Also, you people that keep talking about the “wonderful public transit” need to shut the hell up. How about you try taking the bus, and spending 40 minutes doing a route which would take you 15 minutes by car, and then we’ll talk.

    • Chmeeee says:

      Improving the supply of parking within a downtown beyond a certain point is undesireable. The more parking you provide, the more people drive in, the worse your traffic gets. Read up on the parking ban in Boston. They have not increased the supply of public parking in 30+ years. This forces people to take public transit which keeps the city (sort of) moving. If they provided a space for everybody who wanted one, the city would be a gridlocked distaster 12-16 hours a day.

    • jurupa says:

      What is so “nazi-militancy” about this? Also have you ever been in San Francisco? If you had you will know how well its public transportation is.

    • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

      So they should claim eminent domain and make people turn their buildings into garages?

      I hate to tell you, but many cities have had their streets in place for literally HUNDREDS of years. And buildings for 75+ years. That space and spaces is fixed. The influx of cars isn’t.

    • JeremieNX says:

      +2. I can count the number of American cities with barely-ACCEPTABLE public transit on one hand. If I took transit, I would spend THREE HOURS a day commuting as opposed to 90 minutes. Let’s not even mention all the crime that the busses and trains here are plagued with.

    • Abradax says:

      I did public transit…. for 3 years while I worked downtown.
      No way in hell I was paying 10 bucks a day to park.

      And the route was 45 minutes long, for a trip that would take me 10 by car.

      Do I have to shut the hell up?

  17. iDevin says:

    There’s a school of thought in city planning relating to parking which I happen to agree with. Price parking so that at any given time 85% of the capacity is used. This is the most efficient way to provide parking for a city because it always means there will be available spots, yet doesn’t let valuable city real-estate (the spot in question) go to waste. So at busiest times in busiest places, the meters should automatically adjust themselves (based on the use of all other meters in the surrounding area) to a much higher price. Inversely in less busy areas and at less busy times the meters should adjust downwards to be either very cheap or free – again to attempt to always meet that magic 85% number of utilization.

    There’s a great book that I’d highly recommend reading which covers this subject in laymans terms (as well as many other vehicular concerns) called Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt. It’s a thoroughly fascinating read. Here’s the NY times review:

    • DriverB says:

      fully agree, that book is excellent

    • daveinva says:

      Came in here to recommend Vanderbilt’s FANTASTIC book– a real eye-opener for me.

      The stuff on parking meters being underpriced was quite good, and it showed that SF, while making a step in the right direction, probably isn’t going far enough with the dynamic pricing.

      It’s not just a parking situation, either– as noted in Vanderbilt’s book, drivers that can’t find parking keep driving until they do, hence more traffic in already-busy areas.

      BTW, as an aside, the best tips I learned from Vanderbilt were:
      1. Drive so as to never hit your brakes. Already knew this from years ago, but it’s nice to have it confirmed: it’s frustrating to be unable to go 55 mph on the highway, but it’s better to go a steady 25 mph than go 55 in short spurts followed by red brake lights to a complete stop. In stop-and-go traffic, concentrate on going slow enough, with enough distance between cars, to never have to hit your brakes– thus extending the misery behind you of the jam.

      2. Always merge at the end of the off-ramp, not the beginning. This was truly counterintuitive– shouldn’t you merge at the very beginning of the offramp?– instead, Vanderbilt notes that the cars trying to merge at the beginning or middle of the offramp are blocking *two* lanes of traffic. Instead, merging at the end of the lane keeps the adjacent lane moving until the last possible moment, allowing those who need to stay on the highway to get out of the way.

      Good stuff.

  18. stock2mal says:

    So how much are they paying per meter only to have someone smash the screens or break it, costing taxpayers even more money? Brilliant idea. Can’t wait til someone hits these Cool Hand Luke style.

    • jurupa says:

      What makes you think these meters are going to be made out of cheap plastic?

    • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

      Have you ever used a parking meter? Usually they are out on streets, in public view, which means beating or trying to break in are cut down. Also, they are made of steel and Lucite, the stuff bullet proof glass is made of. As for the screens, have you ever been given a calculator, or bought one at the dollar store? LCD displays are very cheap.

      • dg says:

        A pipe cutter takes the heads right off… And a group of kids hanging around blocks the view… Sure there’s ghetto versions with a pipe inside a pipe, but those are mildly more difficult to deal with…

        Lucite is susceptible to acid etching – what? couldn’t see the screen? Same with a black magic marker or blast of spray paint…

        Glue in the slots?

        Chain around pole + jeep = problem solved…

        There’s lots of ways to screw these things up… Just look to Chicago with their half-baked parking scheme

  19. VashTS says:

    I hope people smash these things up and vandalize them. The city is wrong plain and simple.

  20. Rhinoguy says:

    If their plan is to get more people to ride the bus I am sure this won’t work. I have never seen any sort of report stating that this technique actually changed anything anywhere. Sounds like “revenue enhancement”, the PC term for “gouging”. Seriously, is anyone going to go shopping for groceries on the bus? Or take one home when the movie is over at 11PM? I can see people shopping for shoes during the day, but how often does that happen? Anything over five pounds will come home in a private vehicle. Not saying that’s the way it should be, just the way it is.
    We have meters all over downtown. They are all full 24/7 since they let the bars back downtown. This will just up the rates, if only to cover the cost of the new meters. BTW, the meters need batteries changed regularly taking time and money. Nope, they don’t run off sunlight.

  21. Levk says:

    i wonder how long till skimmers hit em I say a week… and how long before a computer error happens and people get over charged or the meters all say 0 and a few people get tickets for it being wrong… I also wonder how long it will last till they just break I say a year but I can be wrong with that