Navigant Research’s Smart Parking Systems report examines technologies and policies that have the potential to reduce both congestion and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in cities. San Francisco has been one of the cities at the forefront of parking innovation with its SFpark project. The city’s assessment of the project, recently released, has significant lessons for cities considering similar solutions.
SFpark was an extensive smart parking trial run by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) and largely funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation, which provided 80% ($19.8 million) of the program’s total cost of $24.8 million. The project encompassed approximately 6,000 metered on-street parking spaces (about one-quarter of the city’s total supply) and 12,250 parking spaces in 14 city operated garages (75% of the spaces managed by SFMTA). Around 11,700 parking sensors were deployed, along with 300 repeaters and gateways. The key strategic initiatives in SFpark included:
- Real-time parking availability information to make it easier to find a parking space
- Demand-responsive pricing to create parking availability
- Longer time limits at parking meters to make parking more convenient
- Meters that make it easy to pay by credit card and other forms of payment
- Garage facility upgrades to make garages more convenient
How It Worked in Practice
According to the SFpark Pilot Project Evaluation, the amount of time that the target parking occupancy (60% to 80%) was achieved increased by 31% in pilot areas, compared to a 6% increase in control areas. In so-called high payment (HP) compliance pilot areas (where people tend to pay the meter most of the time), achievement of the 60% to 80% target occupancy rate nearly doubled.
The amount of time that blocks were too full to find parking decreased 16% in pilot areas, while increasing 51% in control areas. In HP zones, there was a 45% decrease.
During the trial, SFpark decreased rates on half of all blocks and increased rates on the other half, with average meter rates falling 4% from $2.69 an hour to $2.58 an hour during the pilot. At garages, the average hourly rate fell from $3.45 to $3.03.
SFpark maintained consistent parking availability while increasing utilization of SFpark garages. Utilization of these facilities grew by 11%, far exceeding non-SFpark garages.
There was also an estimated reduction in GHG emissions of 30%, from 7 metric tons per day to 4.9 tons per day in the pilot areas. Vehicle miles driven also decreased by 30% (compared to a 6% decrease in the control areas), and traffic volumes fell 8%.
Demand-responsive pricing and new technologies helped improve parking management and optimize the use of parking space, but simple tools also work. The most basic improvement was seen from the simple deployment and enforcement of parking meters. “One of the clearest findings of this evaluation is that parking meters are extremely effective at managing parking demand,” the study found. This is not so surprising. Parking meters – like electricity and water meters – are a basic tool for making visible the cost of a shared resource. New technologies – whether parking sensors or smart meters – enable more sophisticated and dynamic forms of metering and billing, but the basic principle of payment for use has to be accepted first.
SFpark benefited not only from federal funding, but also from the authority of SFMTA over most aspects of the city’s transportation system. This allows SFMTA to consider parking as part of its broader mobility targets and revenue projections. Such an approach is likely to be a critical element of getting the best not only from new parking systems, but also from other innovations in urban mobility.
Tags: Smart Buildings Program, Smart Energy Practice, Smart Parking, Traffic & Congestion
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