New meters may be boon to city coffers 

San Francisco drivers who prefer to risk parking tickets rather than carry change by the pound may be able to stop gambling with their cars at some parking spaces along The City’s north and east waterfronts.

Since November, five varieties of futuristic parking meters have appeared on blocks of Battery, Jefferson, Chestnut, Francisco and Montgomery streets as well as the Embarcadero as part of a test project by the Port of San Francisco. The port operates about 1,000 meters along 45 city blocks.

The experimental new meters accept credit cards and have sensors in the street that detect when a car has left. Some feature an option to add money from a credit card when the limit on prepaid cards approaches. They also accept cash in the form of bills and,of course, coins.

In late January, city officials announced that The City’s parking meters were only collecting about 22 percent of their maximum potential revenue. Part of the reason for the under-collecting was the use of handicapped placards, but another reason was parkers simply not feeding the meters. While The City regained some revenue from parking tickets, it still collected less than half the potential from the roughly 23,000 meters citywide.

Until the commencement of the experiment in late November, the port used "single-head" meters that collect coins for payment at each parking place. The old meters charged $2 per hour with a two-hour limit from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. every day, with some areas exempted on Sundays.

The experimental meters cost more, but allow a wider variety of payment methods than the old ones and the option to stay longer, Port Finance and Administration Director Tina Olson said.

"My theory was that we were under-recovering from the meters because they take coins. If two hours was $4, people would put in whatever coins they have, cross their fingers and leave," Olson said. "But they’d rather pay for the whole time than risk $40 for a ticket." Preliminary data suggests Olson’s theory "seems to be bearing out," she said.

While most meters run by the San Francisco Department of Parking and Traffic accept prepaid parking cards, they don’t accept credit cards. Olson said she hopes to get in sync with The City to replace meters citywide with the same machines.

The testing period will run until March 1. A full report on the project is due before the Port Commission in late March, Olson said. Meanwhile, information on the new meters can be found online at the Port of San Francisco Web site.  

amartin@examiner.com

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