Tuesday, 11 October 2011

LA follows San Francisco with variable parking pricing trial

I reported in July about San Francisco’s innovative intelligent parking trial called SF Park. It means that kerbside parking in a part of downtown San Francisco is now subject to a form of dynamic pricing whereby the prices are set to ensure that parking is always available on every block. As a result, prices at times of highest demand are set higher than at other times. Prices are not truly dynamic, but are varied monthly.

Los Angeles is about to trial the very same in downtown LA according to the LA Times and Streetsblog (which both have useful articles about the concept). It is to be called ExpressPark. 

The website says:

A 4.5-square-mile area in Downtown will support ExpressPark™, a one-year pilot program that will infuse technology and demand-based pricing into an innovative parking management strategy. Created with $15 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Transportation and $3.5 million in City funds, the project will test ways technology can help the City realize its goals to increase the availability of limited parking spaces, reduce traffic congestion and air pollution, and encourage use of alternative modes of transportation. ExpressPark™, one component of the Los Angeles Congestion Reduction Demonstration, is set to operate beginning Spring 2012.

The LA Times says it “will use not only new meters but also a network of wireless pavement sensors to keep track of parked vehicles in real time. The sensors will help transportation officials determine which meters are in use and which have expired. Eventually, roadside signs will guide motorists to empty spaces in municipal parking garages and lots.

In other words, when parking demand increases, meter rates increase; when demand drops, rates drop.” …"What we're striving for is pricing such that 85% of meters are occupied and 15% are open," said Peer Ghent, senior management analyst with the meter operations division of the city's Department of Transportation, or LADOT.

Good stuff, it combines maximising availability of parking for businesses located in the city and for those seeking a park, while reducing congestion because it eliminates those circulating for long periods looking for parks, as well as deterring those driving at times of peak demand. 

Area of LA parking pricing trial
5,500 on street metered spaces and 7,500 unmetered public spaces in off-street city owned parks are included in the trial. 

The LA Times continues:

Meter rates downtown now range from $1 to $4 an hour. Under the ExpressPark pilot, the prices would be adjusted, probably once a month, but would rise or fall no more than 50% at a time, officials say. Bruce Gillman, an LADOT spokesman, said the city took in $33 million from parking meters in the most recent fiscal year. What effect ExpressPark will have is unknown because revenue will rise in some areas and shrink in others.

The new pay stations and meters popping up throughout the city are harder to thwart. Even if the coin slot is clogged, motorists have the option of paying by credit card. It will no longer do to place a plastic bag over a broken meter and pray.

Some of his points include:
- If ExpressPark is eventually extended to other parts of the city,I think many meter rates will go down. Two years ago the city doubled meter rates everywhere, and I’ve since seen entire blocks where there isn’t a single car parked at a meter. The prices should come down on these blocks. In other words, the city applying a purely administrative approach to setting prices has proven ineffective, this approach should be optimal for utilisation, and potentially revenue.

- Pasadena returns all of its meter revenue to pay for added public services in the metered neighborhoods, and Old Pasadena is a good example of the benefits. Old Pasadena was until the 1980s a commercial skid row and now it is one of the most popular shopping destinations in Southern California. Parking meter revenue helps to explain that success. The meters, which were installed in Old Pasadena in 1993, bring in $1 million a year to spend on in added public services in just that little shopping district. The meter money paid to replace all the sidewalks, streetlights, street trees, and street furniture. It paid to clean up the alleys and put electric wires underground. The meter money also pays to pressure wash the sidewalks twice a month and to provide added police services. If LA adopted Pasadena’s parking meter policy, all of our business districts would be much more prosperous. Residents of LA would not have to go to Pasadena or Santa Monica or Culver City to walk around in clean and safe environments.

Basically hypothecated parking revenue being recirculated into improving the entire road corridor environment for all users.  It can fix road surfaces, lines, signs, traffic signals, lighting, street furniture and facilities for pedestrians.  It is crucial in my view that if parking pricing is to be adopted, that those paying and those living and working in the zone should see direct benefits from the revenue raised.

- San Francisco started its program, called SFpark, this year and last month it made the first price adjustments based on occupancy rates. Prices stayed just the same for 37 percent of the meters, increased for 32 percent, and decreased for 31 percent.  Which simply indicates how difficult it is to predict demand accurately!

- The main problem we already have in L.A. is the widespread abuse of handicapped placards. A disabled placard in California is like a “free parking” pass for the entire state. One of our students just finished his Masters thesis on placard abuse in downtown. He surveyed one block on Flower Street where there are 14 metered parking spaces. Most of the spaces were filled most of the time with cars that had disabled placards. For five hours of the day, all fourteen spaces were occupied by cars with disabled placards. A problem not unknown elsewhere. In the UK it is the "blue badge" problem. Finding a solution to the holes in disabled parking schemes needs to be a parking policy priority.

- Shoud concludes "The poorest people can’t afford cars, and they won’t pay anything for Express Park. Their lives will improve because the city will have more money to pay for public services and the bus system will run better. The buses that they ride in won’t be mired in traffic caused by cars cruising for parking."

Quite.  It will be interesting to see if both San Francisco and LA encourage other cities to be cleverer about parking pricing and technology.  In the absence of congestion pricing (and indeed even with it), it provides a fascinating solution to the problem of optimising parking use, and reducing vehicle circulation by those seeking parking spaces.  The next step forward is surely pricing that is dynamic by the hour, not the month, with mobile phone applications that enable prices to be instantly available, or even for spaces to be booked?


  1. From Randy Salzman this comment - For additional discussion of Old Pasadena parking, see this article from Thinking Highways: http://bit.ly/nMrhZ7

  2. Interesting post! The price, availability and access to parking can potentially have a huge influence over the success of local businesses and traders during a recession.