Drivers in notoriously difficult-to-park-in San Francisco now have access to real-time parking rates at more than 95 percent of meters and lots in The City through an app that launched Monday.
The free app ParkMe combines city-run parking data from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, made available to developers as part of its own SFpark app, with information from nearly every private lot in The City.
While parking apps are not new to San Francisco, the Santa Monica-based ParkMe says it is the first to provide comprehensive, constantly updated information for finding the closest and cheapest parking. Its launch is particularly timely given the possibility of a second BART strike looming in less than 60 days, said company CEO and co-founder Sam Friedman.
"We wanted to launch now because parking congestion only gets worse during this peak holiday season," he said. "We thought it would be a good tool for city-goers, residents and tourists."
Transit agency spokesman Paul Rose said The City fully supports tech innovations, and that it released parking data to developers hoping they could help reduce traffic congestion, allow Muni to run faster and make the streets safer.
"What we've learned is that 33 percent of all congestion is due to people circling, trying to find that perfect parking spot," he said. "By helping people find it faster, we're reducing some of the congestion that sometimes occurs."
City officials issued 1.5 million parking citations the last fiscal year, the same amount as in the two previous years. Those numbers are down from 1.8 million in fiscal year 2008-09 and 1.6 million in 2009-10, according to Rose. The last few years each brought in $113 million.
"It balances out," he said. "While we've issued less citations, more people are paying the meter or a parking lot and we'd much rather have people paying those than paying a fine."
ParkMe has received roughly 500,000 downloads nationwide since it launched two years ago and already provides real-time data in Los Angeles; Austin, Texas; and Washington, D.C., among another cities. It took longer to launch in San Francisco because its street team went out physically to gather data at lots and garages.
The startup signs deals with parking operators, providing data useful for marketing their facilities in exchange for a guarantee that they will keep their rates updated on the app, which is available for iPhone, Android, GPS devices and the Web.
ABM Parking Services, one of the largest operators in the U.S. with 66 locations in San Francisco, has seen an increase in business since it partnered with ParkMe last fall and isn't concerned about competitors that also participate.
"I think it's going to benefit everybody as a whole," said ABM Parking Services Executive Vice President Leonard Carder, "as people migrate more toward an app or Web-based decision for their parking needs."