San Francisco’s parking violations are among the highest in the nation at a whopping $63 at downtown spaces and $53 in the hoods. It can be pretty jarring when confronted with a dreaded ticket on your windshield when the meter expires – especially after holiday shopping and supporting local businesses. Those businesses face different challenges than the malls with their football field parking lots.
You also get slapped with the bloated fines for parking in neighborhoods during street cleaning hours in which a sweeper rolls by for five minutes during the three hour time frame in which you are warned not to park on the designated street.
It’s all part of the plan to make money for the city at the expense of its drivers. And while many local environmentalists are all for it as a way to encourage biking and bus riding and other modes of public transportation, it isn’t delivering the optimum results: Boosting city income and getting taxpayers to leave their cars at home.
The prices of citations were increased $3 last year to boost revenue for the hurting Municipal Transportation Agency which plans to collect an estimated $232 million in fines this year, according to the San Francisco Examiner. But gouging the city’s drivers won’t generate enough income for the $47 million operating shortfall. So, what can the agency do? Look to the meters again, of course.
Now the agency is proposing rate extensions at some 25,000 meters as a way to make up at least $9 million of the revenue shortfall. Most meters now end at six p.m., giving locals a break for patronizing restaurants or other businesses. In some locations they would extend to midnight and to Sundays. That means you best carry plenty of quarters or buy parking meter cards if you want to do the town by car because public parking garages are often full and can cost even more than a violation for a night of dinner and the theater.
The whole gouging system has residents shaking their heads, including respected former San Francisco Chronicle columnist Adair Lara, who opened the discussion up to her many Facebook friends asking if they, too, were exasperated by the insane fees. She got plenty of responses from those who have been burned – yet not deterred from leaving home. Starving the meters is really the only weapon tax payers have in protesting the fees, and would also result in fewer cars on the road.
Some, like Jim Lazarus of the SF Chamber of Commerce, applaud having meters operating on Sundays because it would encourage turnover which helps local businesses. Even so, he told the Examiner extending paid parking after six in the evening “is just an excuse to shake people down” and that “their primary purpose is not to be a cash cow for Muni.”
Transit Agency head Nathaniel Ford, credited with putting Muni “back on track,” argues he is coming from the heart and not the pocketbook with a strategy that is more about managing congestion than drawing more revenue. Apparently, occupancy rates at meters are higher than 85 percent in some places. The agency figures extending parking meters will increase the availability of spaces and cut down on drivers having to circle blocks to find spaces.
I hear him, since I was forced to circle the bustling Richmond neighborhood of Geary on Sunday to park my car and meet my family on the avenue for lunch. I must have spent 15 minutes circling until landing a coveted spot on a side street, about five blocks away. I’m not sure if it would have been easier if the meters were operating. Across the bridge in Marin County, municipalities are offering the gift of free parking every day during the holidays as a “courtesy” to its taxpayers who are supporting local businesses. And the turnover seems to go pretty smoothly over there.
I am certain of one thing: A $63 parking violation is a violation of justice, a punishment that hardly fits the crime. If it is desired to have a stinging effect, it does. It is painful getting a ticket knowing you could use the money to pay your heating bill or even donate it to a worthy cause. I will never park in this god forsaken town again, you vow.
But it also leaves a bitter aftertaste directly associated with the city of San Francisco and its government. After all, we are still in the throws of a recession, even if it is hard to park amid the congestion.