Since The City introduced its nationally recognized SFpark system last year, parking rates at city-owned garages have fallen by 20 percent — with many lots now cheaper than nearby street meters.
Rates at some garages are now as low as $1 an hour throughout the day.
Parking rates at 14 of the 20 garages run by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency are determined by availability and demand. So prices drop when occupancy is low.
For instance, at the Performing Arts garage on Grove Street near Gough Street, rates are $1 an hour throughout the day. At the nearby Civic Center garage on McAllister Street, parking costs $2.50 an hour between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. — 50 cents cheaper than meter rates — and prices drop to $2 an hour between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m.
Even at the Sutter-Stockton garage, a mere block away from Union Square, motorists can park for $1 an hour before 9 a.m. Although the price jumps to $3 an hour between 9 a.m. and noon, that’s still cheaper than the $3.50 hourly rate at Stockton Street meters.
As the holiday shopping season ramps up, the agency hopes to highlight these deals. But motorists will have to act quickly. When overall occupancy rates rise at a garage, hourly rates increase by 25 cents, although the prices are not adjusted upward more than once a month.
“Few people realize just how cheap it can be to park in these SFpark garages,” agency spokesman Paul Rose said.
“Of course, the SFMTA would prefer that you take transit or walk or ride a bike, but if you’re going to drive, we want you to use these convenient, underutilized garages.”
This variable pricing model is only one aspect of SFpark, which also permitted use of parking meters for more than two hours and includes smartphone applications that let motorists pay by phone and obtain live information about pricing and parking availability.
Donald Shoup, an influential UCLA professor of urban planning, said the cheaper rates are proof the system is working.
“The garages built by The City aren’t supposed to make big profits — they’re supposed to help business and customers,” Shoup said. “It turned out that before SFpark they were overpriced and underoccupied. Now that they’re cheaper, motorists should head straight for the garages.”
While the program has received plenty of plaudits — it recently was commended by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission — it also has its critics. Although the Transportation Agency calls it a parking-management tool, some residents believe its main objective is to raise money for the agency.
After the proposed expansion of SFpark street meters into new neighborhoods of San Francisco, a group called Eastern Neighborhood United Front was formed to oppose the program. Member Tony Kelly said he thinks the lack of meter time limits indicates that the agency isn’t really concerned with reducing congestion or increasing parking turnover.
“The SFMTA is totally fine with people driving into our city and using our streets as a commuter parking lot,” Kelly said. “They do all this double-talking about parking management, but really they just want your money.”
Rose begs to differ.
“By encouraging drivers to go directly to garages rather than circling looking for parking at meters, we are reducing congestion and clearing the streets for drivers, cyclists, pedestrians and Muni,” Rose said.