San Fran Wows with Parking App for iPhone

San Francisco has often been cited as a city that is ahead of the times.  It was the site of a cultural revolution in the late ‘60s, when Haight-Ashbury became overrun by peace-loving hippies.  And it has long been a mecca of gay pride.  Although the recent announcement of an iPhone app designed to help city-dwellers find parking isn’t on the same grand scale as the cultural upheaval and social awareness that have come to characterize this city by the sea, it is a welcome addition for anyone who owns a car, and it’s already caught the attention of other cities.

SFPark, created by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, is designed to help drivers “park smarter”.  Covering several popular districts, including (but not limited to) Embarcadero, SOMA, Fisherman’s Wharf, and the Financial District, the app will give users real-time information pertaining to not only availability of parking in the areas covered, but also prices for both street parking and garages.  This is a welcome relief for commuters, residents, and visitors that have spent too much time circling in the past.

But how does it work?  The app has actually been very cleverly crafted (odd for a governmental program, but once in a while your tax dollars go to something useful).  A data feed will be sent to your iPhone or other mobile device (Android coming soon) via both updated parking meters (the wireless credit card variety) and wireless sensors in the pavement.  You might be amazed to find that these measures are already in place, but apparently this plan has been in the works for a while.  The city already boasts sensors in 7,000 spaces, with an additional 1,000 currently in the works.  And information from wireless parking meters and monitored garage entrances will also be included.

The 2-year test run on this $20 million app has already kicked off, and while there are some problems (the extreme memory warning that auto switches users to the “light weight view”, which only provides information on garages), there are also a lot of interesting benefits.  The app itself is free through iTunes, but what’s interesting is that it can affect the parking rates.  When sensors show that an area is extremely full much of the time, the metered rates may go up as high as $6 per hour.  But when an area has a lot more spaces available on a consistent basis, rates could drop to as low as 25 cents per hour.

Of course, it’s not as if these changes will occur while you’re parked in an area.  Rate changes will be listed seven days (or more) before they go into effect and prices are limited to changing (up or down) only once each month (per area).  But it will allow the city to collect more money for high-demand parking spaces, perhaps prompting people to save their parking money and take the bus instead.  In short, it is a rather brilliant system to monitor and streamline both parking and potentially, the flow of traffic in some areas (cutting down on the occurrence of both circling and double parking).  And if the federally funded pilot program does well San Francisco, it will likely be adopted by cities around the world.

Guest Post by Sarah Danielson

Sarah Danielson writes for LV car insurance review, where you can find a variety of great providers, rates, and guides.