New meters bring stress-free parking

Anna Rainer manages a shop on Hayes Street and has noticed a change in her customers during the past few weeks.
"There's just not the stress there was before," she said. "People are a little bit calmer." The serenity, she speculates, comes from an unlikely source: the new parking meters lining the street outside. Drivers no longer have to worry about coming up with enough change or a city-issued prepaid parking card to feed the meters. Now they can use credit or debit cards, and can park for two hours, allowing more time to shop and eat before the meter minder issues a $55 ticket.

"People used to come in here all the time asking for quarters and worried about getting a ticket," said Rainer, whose shop, Minimal, specializes in home accessories. San Francisco installed 190 high-tech meters in Hayes Valley in late July as part of a federally funded pilot project that aims to reduce traffic congestion by micromanaging the supply and price of curbside parking and city-owned garages.

The idea is to adjust meter rates based on demand, with the goal of discouraging drivers from circling. The new meters are expected to play a key role in making the program, known as SFpark, work. At this early juncture of the two-year study, city officials are simply testing the new meter technology and gathering parking data from sensors embedded in the asphalt that monitor when a space is in use. Oakland, Redwood City, Seattle and scores of other cities already use the high-tech meters. But San Francisco is the first city to try to use them to manage congestion on a large scale.

Alex Clark of Berkeley pulled into a space on Hayes Street one recent morning not knowing he was part of a national experiment. He had no trouble navigating the instructions as he plugged in his debit card and selected how long he'd be parked. Quite a difference from the high-tech, multispace meters installed along the Embarcadero as a precursor to SFpark whose design confuses drivers.

Eventually, the Municipal Transportation Agency plans to include 5,100 metered spaces, about 20 percent of the city's metered spots, in the SFpark pilot program.

Project manager Jay Primus gave high marks to the Hayes Valley rollout. While there have been a "few small issues here and there," he said, "so far the meters have been working smoothly." Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, who represents the neighborhood, reported similar findings. "People like the modernization and ease of use."
San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency
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