Course reversal badly needed at parking agency 

As anyone who has driven in San Francisco can tell you, parking here is a mess. But what may be less noticeable is that the department in charge of enforcing the parking laws here is also dysfunctional.

To anyone who receives a parking citation in San Francisco, the system for ticket writing may seem like it works just fine — perhaps even too efficiently. But a recent report from the City Controller’s Office points out a number of troubling inefficiencies throughout the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s Parking Enforcement Section.

That department’s main function is to manage the limited number of parking spots available for drivers throughout The City. If citations were not appropriately doled out, motorists could simply camp out at expired meters instead of moving along and creating the parking turnover needed in densely trafficked areas. Parking control officers also direct traffic when needed, such as during special events. And, of course, the parking enforcement division generates revenue through citations.

But the parking agency should focus first and foremost on reducing the clutter of circling cars by effectively directing traffic, managing parking spots and citing those who fail to adhere to The City’s rules. The controller’s report makes 36 recommendations for how the agency could do that better, although some are not currently feasible.

The overarching theme underlying its recommendations was a lack of efficiency. Parking officers use old vehicles often in need of maintenance, the routes they patrol are not based on relevant data and the department is not using available technology well. In one of the technology capitals of the world, this is disheartening — but not shocking. In April, The Bay Citizen reported that Muni, which is operated by the SFMTA, could not afford to purchase iPads so that managers could use an application developed for them to track and manage buses in real time.

The transportation agency has led the way with several parking management solutions, including SFPark, which is high-tech enough that sensors on the street can monitor when parking spots are open. Yet parking control officers on those same streets are still driving around in three-wheeled carts and manually marking car tires with chalk. And many of the vehicles they are driving, according to the report, are past their maximum age and mileage for usage, although a comprehensive tracking system is lacking to determine when to sell off the aging ones and buy new ones.

The report is not an indictment of any person. In fact, it points out that the management of the department is stretched thin, and that its workforce is smaller than what it should be. And the transportation agency is working to hire more employees, as the report recommends.

Rather, the report shows that the parking division, much like Muni and other parts of the transportation agency, has been chronically underfunded and is need of a 21st-century makeover. A little investment in this department could streamline its overall operation and save us all money in the long run.

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