For Hillsborough resident Sophia Moritz, the daily commute to San Francisco is already bad enough. She gets up early, fights the traffic on U.S. Highway 101, parks in downtown San Francisco and then walks several blocks to her South of Market district workplace.
The trek is bearable because she only pays $10 to park — a steal considering that rates typically run $3.50 an hour. However, that lone bright spot could soon be a thing of the past.
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is trying to revive a historically ignored ordinance that says off-street parking facilities must charge a flat hourly rate. That would mean the end of early-bird parking deals and monthly discounts — a development that could increase rates by $20 a day, $750 a month and $9,000 a year for commuters.
“Parking is already a huge expense for me, but driving is worth it to me because it saves me about an hour each day in my commute,” Moritz said. “If parking prices go up, I’m not going to be able to afford to drive anymore. It’s like people are being punished to work in San Francisco.”
The 1984 garage ordinance was designed to encourage commuters to use public transit. It has never been implemented because the Planning Department, which is responsible for enforcing the measure, doesn’t have enough personnel.
But now SFMTA officials say they’re serious about the concept. The policy also would generate revenue for the perennially cash-strapped agency, particularly from its 20 garages, and also in extra parking taxes, says MTA Chief Financial Officer Sonali Bose.
A 2010 report projected that such enforcement would raise $6 million annually.
Rob Black of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce said enforcement is a bad idea, particularly when the Financial District has 12 million square feet of empty office space.
However, Gabriel Metcalf, the executive director of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, likes the proposal.
“The point is to bolster San Francisco as a destination point for shoppers and businesses,” Metcalf said. “But at the same time, we really want to move as many commuters as possible on to sustainable forms of transportation.”
Ashley Rule, a San Jose resident who works in The City, said the increased parking rates would likely force her to take Caltrain instead of driving. “I have nothing against public transportation — it’s just not convenient for me at all,” she said. “I’ve missed my Caltrain line back home several times because the Muni bus that was supposed to take me to the station was late. That adds an extra 30 minutes to my commute.”
Paul Rose, spokesman for the SFMTA, said the agency is beginning its public outreach campaign on the garage ordinance proposal, and is planning on holding a series of community hearings this spring. The agency hopes to have the policy in place on a trial basis by October.
SFMTA board Director Cameron Beach said he expects plenty of opinionated people to attend the forums.
“I hope we’re renting out AT&T Park for this one,” Beach said.
To get a sense of how much the price to park would go up under The City’s downtown parking ordinance, we calculated rates at the Ellis-O’Farrell garage.
$3.50: Current hourly rate
$15: 10-hour early-bird rate if motorists enter before 9 a.m. and leave before 7 p.m.
$35: 10-hour rate if early-bird rate is prohibited
$300: Standard monthly rate
$1,050: Monthly rate if proposed ordinance is enforced