SF Mayor Lee promotes nonsensical parking policy

Image by martindiepeveen, on Flickr.

Image by martindiepeveen, on Flickr.

Yesterday, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee announced he wanted to make street parking free again on Sundays in an attempt to make the city more affordable and to ease its transportation problems. If these are his goals, however, free Sunday parking will simply set the city back.

Affordability is about housing, not parking tickets

Mayor Lee’s press release said the Sunday parking program was too successful, raking in $6 million in its first year, about half of which was from parking tickets. At $79 a pop, those can be pricey, and the mayor doesn’t want to add this extra cost to already strained residents.

Everyone’s talking about affordability in San Francisco, after all, and for good reason. The spike in rent has people trapped in homes too small for them, or locked out of moving to the city, or getting evicted from their home so developers can jack up rents.

But this sharp rise in rents doesn’t have anything to do with parking. If the mayor was concerned about the city’s neediest citizens, he’d propose making Muni free on Sundays, not parking. Low income households are far less likely to own a vehicle, as are San Franciscans in general. Free Muni would help them a lot more than free parking.

Even beyond that, it’s likely a good chunk of those with parking tickets are from outside the city: Marin, San Mateo, Contra Costa. A comparison of the vehicle registration and ticket databases would shine some light on just how many San Franciscans are getting hit.

The economics of parking

There’s a theory that, if you don’t charge anything for something, more people will want to use it, even if they have no need to use it. Adding a price gives people a signal on how to self-select who gets to use the resource. It underlies basic economics, and economist Donald Shoup has theorized that parking spaces and habits respond to pricing, too. Don’t charge for parking and you’ll have a shortage, and people will circle the block trying to find their own space.

When SFMTA put Shoup’s theory into practice – charging more for high-demand spaces and less for low-demand ones – it turns out Shoup was right. Parking spaces have become more available, parking tickets declined, and even the average parking fee declined. As Streetsblog reported, SFMTA has found that the Sunday parking charge cut time spent cruising for parking by over half and increased parking turnover (which allows more people to use the same spot and access local shops) by 20 percent.

What Mayor Lee is proposing is to ignore the policy his administration has pioneered and shown to be effective for one day per week. The result will be fewer free parking spaces, less turnover, and more traffic from people circling the block.

Transit First?

If a transportation mode is to be free on Sundays (well, other than walking or biking), a Transit First policy would make that mode transit, not driving. Though Mayor Lee does want to add a $500 million bond to the ballot to make up for the lost $6 million in parking fees, there’s no reason to link the two policies, and there’s no reason not to use the $6 million to pay for SFMTA needs.

This is not a transit-first policy. It’s not even a car-first policy given the negatives for drivers. It’s slogan first, a sop to the San Francisco Interfaith Council with a half-billion dollars for transit advocates to ogle (despite Muni’s proven inability to spend it well).

Not only does the mayor’s proposal do nothing to address affordability, it will make parking more of a headache for the city’s drivers. It doesn’t put the city’s transit first. It flies in the face of San Francisco’s own policy research.

If Mayor Lee really cares about the issues he says he does, he needs to promote policies that actually advance them, not ones whose only value is political.

Written by David Edmondson

David Edmondson

David is a native Marinite working in Washington, DC. He writes about how to apply smart-growth and urbanist thinking to the low-density towns of his home.

2 comments to SF Mayor Lee promotes nonsensical parking policy

  • Easy

    Obviously wrong decisions like this make you wonder if there’s any thinking behind what electeds do.

  • Mayor Lee is hearing rumblings from the neighborhoods about parking meters and is worried about the $500 million Muni bond he wants to put on the November ballot. But it’s doubtful that this conciliatory gesture will have any effect on the surly mood city voters are now in.