SFpark – Brilliant or Boondoggle?

By John Van Horn : parkingtoday.com – excerpt

Did you know that SFpark, San Francisco’s much ballyhooed new high-tech parking program is a test? It is a multimillion-dollar 18-month-long program that will end in December, and then … who knows?…
The key to this data collection is the sensor, which is a hockey puck-style device located at each space, and therein lies part of the tale. The sensors have been problematic from day one…
SFpark is not self-funding. The SFMTA needs the parking revenue generated in San Francisco to support its various transportation projects. (more)

The author found a a $6 million shortfall in revenue from the city’s garages since SFPark’s programs were initiated in them. We wrote a letter of appreciation to John, who is looking for feedback on SFPark’s operation.
Let’s give him feedback.

The initial vendor was replaced after it was determined the contract requirements (read that, percentage of valid reads) was not being met. The second vendor is struggling, and seemingly will meet the contract requirements if they are changed. If you talk to either vendor, they discuss accuracy in terms of data collection and not really in terms of real-time information…
The environment in San Francisco is seen as unique, since it has cable cars, electric buses and utilities under the streets. All this appears to affect the sensors and their accuracy…
It may go to the original specification –Online real-time requirements to show parking space availability and collect statistical data through sensors requiring 95% plus accuracy in real time may not be possible with today’s technology.
Asking a sensor to transmit accurate data from a parking space to a Wi-Fi network attached to streetlights and telephone poles and to have that data sent to “central,” processed and then made available to the public within moments and to databases might be a stretch. But, then, what do I know.
The consultants in that room in Phoenix back in June noted that valid on-street data could be and has been collected using visual observation with a clipboard and stopwatch. They also noted that statistical data from parking meters have been an excellent source when combined with observation. And at a fraction of the investment of time or treasure…
Fifteen months into the program, the head of SFpark said that the data aren’t really available and that there are no interim stats and that such results will be published after the program is finished…
Consultants and some city parking managers who were at Primus’ presentation in Phoenix were skeptical in that it seems that little if any of the parking industry’s literature has been used to assist in data review…
One also must consider what appears to be the long-term goal of SFpark. Was it to manage a needed resource in the city, or was it to change behavior to the point when that resource was unneeded?
SFpark is not self-funding. The SFMTA needs the parking revenue generated in San Francisco to support its various transportation projects…
So, in the end, what is this “pilot program?” Is it a well-thought-out way to test new ways to run on-street parking in municipal settings? Or is it an extremely well-designed website, app store and well-branded public relations marvel that will run out of funding and then, unlike the aged in the Dylan Thomas poem, will go gentle into that good night.

SFpark has been funded by a $20 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. This money is being used to develop and install the parking program. One thing to remember: When it’s gone, it’s gone. There is no guarantee that the Feds will step up and provide more money, and in the current environment, who knows? At the end of the year, when the money runs out, what will happen?
Fifteen of SF’s 20 city-owned garages have been swept into the program. A rate structure unlike any seen in the industry has been instituted. The result has been a $6 million shortfall in revenue from the garages. I understand that revenue may not be the goal; however, it would seem that risking the fiscal integrity of the bricks-and-mortar garages may not be the best tack to take.
SFpark is not self-funding. The SFMTA needs the parking revenue generated in San Francisco to support its various transportation projects…
So, in the end, what is this “pilot program?” Is it a well-thought-out way to test new ways to run on-street parking in municipal settings? Or is it an extremely well-designed website, app store and well-branded public relations marvel that will run out of funding and then, unlike the aged in the Dylan Thomas poem, will go gentle into that good night…

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