Demand-Responsive Parking in San Francisco

People generally understand that there were shortages and long lines for things in the Soviet Union because goods weren’t priced according to supply and demand. And people generally understand that, in general, price controls will tend to lead to either gluts or shortages. And yet few people understand that this same principle applies to on-street parking. In many places, it’s hard to find and that’s because it’s not priced properly. San Francisco is trying to change things with its SFPark initiative:

SFpark will charge the lowest possible hourly rate to achieve the right level of availability in both garages and at metered spaces. This project is not about raising parking revenue; it’s about making parking easier to find. SFpark is designed so each block and each garage maintains have about, an average, 20% availability. […]

SFpark will use demand-responsive pricing to even out parking availability and reduce the need for circling. In pilot areas, meter pricing can range from between 25 cents an hour to a maximum of $6.00 an hour, depending on demand. During special events, such as baseball games, hourly prices may temporarily increase beyond the $6.00 ceiling. Parking rate changes will also affect City-owned garages and lots in pilot areas. Since many City-owned garages are currently underutilized, the prices are likely to decrease, which will attract more parking demand to City garages.

A nice next step would be for the city to get out of the garage-owning business. In a city where street parking is priced in a demand-responsive way and developers are not subject to regulatory mandates to construct parking, one assumes that parking garages and parking lots will still be constructed. If you want to drive somewhere then you’ll need to park your car, and since people often do want to drive there’s money to be made charging them for the privilege. But regulatory mandates and city-owned garages tend to ensure that parking is oversupplied.