Smart(er) Parking in the Future

Parking Meter
[Photo by Nate Enyedi for Wikipedia.]

A few years ago, the Port of San Francisco wanted to study parking-use patterns at a third of the 950 meters it controls along the Embarcadero, using a technology developed by the SF-based Streetline Networks Inc. — little sensors glued to the street that transmit a wireless signal to a central database when a parking space is occupied or vacated. Now SFMTA has picked up the idea for another purpose: to (hopefully) make free spaces easier to find on the fly, by transmitting the data to a service you will apparently be able to subscribe to, according to this NPR story. (An iPhone app, perhaps? Maybe by the time it’s ready Apple will be done hosing their own servers.) The same sensors will be capable of monitoring the speed of traffic past the spaces, and that data will be transmitted as well. SFMTA intends to analyze the data they collect from this network, and based on that, they will set policies to adjust the price of parking in response to demand, aiming for a vacancy rate of 15%. (Expect a glacial pace on that, with lots of legislative bickering once it comes down to choosing actual prices. Dynamic server-to-meter price adjustments are a distant dream.) Reportedly San Francisco is the first city to reach this stage with the technology.

(Unrelated, but the question occurs to me: why do I have to rely upon the New York Times and NPR to bring me local news of this potential significance? And then the Chronicle wonders why they’re losing money.)

6 Comments so far

  1. Mark Pritchard (markpritchard) on July 12th, 2008 @ 2:21 pm

    Nice post, Jeremy!

    I wonder if they’re also going to try demand pricing for parking spaces.

  2. Jeremy Hatch (jhatch) on July 12th, 2008 @ 2:50 pm

    Thanks, Mark!

    That’s a good question. I would say probably no for two reasons: I think (correct me if I’m wrong) that all SFMTA spaces are metered anyway, and that unmetered garages and lots are private businesses. I’d guess that unassisted market forces have already found the sweet spot for private spaces (that is, the price is as high as it can be without driving too many people away when demand is low, and they still sell out during peak demand) or they have instituted some form of demand pricing anyway, for example, those lots that cost less on Sundays. But that’s just an unresearched impression I have!

  3. lern on July 12th, 2008 @ 4:40 pm

    Uh, hate to break it to you but the Chron wrote about this metering project back in December 2005.

  4. Jeremy Hatch (jhatch) on July 13th, 2008 @ 12:07 am

    Actually, what they reported in 2005 was the background I retold in my first sentence. My second link should be familiar to you. That, of course, was the Port of SF doing a study, and this is SFMTA deploying a new system. Same company is involved, but these are two different stories.

    The larger point of my question at the end is this: the SF Chronicle is getting scooped on local stories of national importance, and thus losing any potential claim to relevance, due to an apparent editorial policy of over-reporting local trivia. (The name Edgerly comes to mind in this connection.) This is a perfect example of the problem: the Chronicle reported the trivial story and dropped the ball on the big story. They do this over and over, and we deserve better.

  5. Bay Area Issues, Links for July 14th, 2008 « Spot Us - The Blog (pingback) on July 14th, 2008 @ 3:53 pm

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  6. belgand on July 16th, 2008 @ 5:07 am

    Ideally we would have parking meters that accept Translink, much like the Octopus card in Hong Kong. Of course, that would assume that we ever manage to get Translink rolled out properly and supported on transit. Or that we can manage to get people to actually use it then. For some reason even FasTrak has hideously low numbers and my girlfriend was opposed to both it and Translink unless she got some kind of discount. You’d think that convenience, ease of use, and everything else would be enough.

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