Tech Tries To Solve SF Parking

Local officials are spending at least $26.24 million to make it easier for you to find parking.
And they are not alone. The private sector is also spending big on technology and applications to help drivers hunt for parking.

Start-up companies like GottaPark and ParkingCarma are focused on helping drivers reserve spaces in private garages.

The San Francisco-based GottaPark, for example,  allows users to book a reservation in one of the 10,000 parking spaces listed on its website, said Michael Somoza, the chief executive officer of the high tech, start-up that markets itself with the low-tech moniker, the yellow pages of parking.

Cities across the country are looking to see what happens in San Francisco, said Donald Shoup, author of the influential book, The High Cost of Free Parking.

Shoup and others argue that the promised efficiencies will mean less congestion. Somoza says they will bring peace of mind.


Mostly funded through a $19.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportations Urban Partnership Agreement, SFpark will install sensors in 6,000 of the citys 25,000 metered spaces and 12,250 spaces in 15 of the citys 20 parking garages.

The SFMTA and Metropolitan Transportation Commission is also is also getting an additional $6.44 million from the feds to evaluate the impacts of SFpark, revamp the website and upgrade the Translink (soon to be Clipper) to support parking payment in five city parking lots.

These were the figures submitted in Dec. 2009, but due to delays, its an outdated figure, said Department of Transportation official, Nancy Singer. The new figure, yet to be submitted, is likely to be higher.

Its not too unusual for these types of projects that are innovative and breaking new ground with concepts and technology to slip back a bit sometimes, she said. But it is moving forward.

The SFpark pilot program, which is scheduled to last two years, was originally set to begin in April but will likely start at the end of summer, SFMTA officials said.

The test areas include the Mission District between 15th and 24th Streets from South Van Ness Avenue, to Guerrero Street.

The program would also replace some of the old meters with ones that allow drivers to pay with coins and credit and debit cards.

The SFpark pilot strategically coincides with that effort to ensure that the new meters are part of overall smart parking management, said Kristen Holland, spokeswoman for the SFMTA.

SFpark areas will also be extended to four hours, and in some areas we will test eliminating time limits altogether, she added.

The goal of the program is to reach the right level of parking availability. This will be done by periodically adjusting meter pricing up and down based on demand.

The increases would no be more than 50 cents an hour every four weeks, Holland said.

Customers would get all this information real-time through the SFpark and 511 websites and new mobile applications such as Nicholas Capizzanis, a Chicago-based developer who created the San Francisco Parking iPhone application.

Priced at $1.99, the application allows users to see the price of parking garages, mostly in northwestern neighborhoods.

Once the real-time data is available to developers from SFpark, it will be added to his iPhone application, he said.

Capizzani is also working with ParkingCarma, another Bay Area parking reservation system that would have real-time availability in some private garages.


When the site first launched in 2008, by Mission Resident John Somoza, it was aimed at people who wanted to rent their under-utilized parking space. Today, private residents only make up about 5 percent of their customers but users can still post their parking spaces for free.

The remaining 95 percent of their clients are large parking garages.

The company launched thanks to $100,000 in seed funding in July 2008, according to, a tech database. It recently received $500,000 in Angel funding  which will be used for marketing according to Somoza.

On the outside patio of Haus Cafe on 24th Street, GottaParks CEO Michael Somoza navigates the website on a recent afternoon showing how to find the cheapest parking near AT&T Park. We find parking just across the street from AT&T Park for $28 and other parking just a couple blocks away for less than $10.

Getting a cheap, guaranteed parking spot near your destination brings peace of mind, he said.

Users can sign in and reserve with a credit card. The GottaPark fee, which is included in the final advertised price, is  15 percent from the parking rate, or 60 cents if its less than $5.

Increase in Driving?

Wouldnt creating technology that facilitates parking create more driving?

Shoup, who is a transit expert, doesnt think so. Under the SFpark program, the fee for the garage would be raised if it were over-utilized.

I can see an increase in carpooling, he said.

Some drivers interviewed said they would consider using either SFpark or GottaPark, and maybe it would make them drive more.

Mary Cray said her car is her main mode of transportation and she hates the parking near Bi-Rite.

However, she said, she doesnt think she would use any of the services because it requires too much planning. She added that she would consider GottaPark for Saturday night parking.

Joe Morse, of Noe Valley, who drives occasionally to 21st and Valencia streets said he might drive more.

I would try not to drive more, he said. But convenience definitely could make it more appealing.
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