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Add worker pay-by-phone parking to downtown annual residential permits

Sent: Dec 11, 2013
To ''; '';  
Subject: Dec 16 Council RPPP Study Session

Topic: Add pay-by-phone to RPPP

Dear Council and Planning Commission,

Please give consideration to: "Add daily worker pay-by-phone parking to downtown annual residential permits." This is a simple-to-implement variation on the Downtown Residential Parking Permit Program (RPPP) concept. This variant has downtown workers pay-by-phone for access to parking spaces on each weekday they park downtown, while residents park based on annual permits. This variation reduces more worker trips to downtown.

San Francisco (and other cities) uses a pay-by-phone parking system for select parking spaces. These spaces have unique numbers and signage every few spaces directing people to call pay-by-phone to pay for parking. (Stanford is studying similar advanced parking systems.) With pay-by-phone, there are three ways for a downtown employee to pay for a workday worth of parking:
1. An automated voice response phone system that can take credit cards and the unique space number.
2. An easier-to-use smartphone app has an account associated with a credit card. Within the app, workers enter the unique space number.
3. Given an account with a credit card in the cloud, users can text their unique space number.

The SF pay-by-phone system coexists with meters and is integrated with the meters, but a PA implementation would not need meters. Parking enforcement in SF is integrated with the pay-by-phone cloud database.

For managing PA downtown spillover parking challenges, a meter-less pay-by-phone worker parking system could be implemented simultaneously with a residential permit program. Because no meters would need to be added, the capital cost for pay-by-phone will be low, just parking space striping/numbering, signage, and a possible upfront payment to a smart parking vendor. By-the-day worker parking charges have a higher trip reduction impact that annual employee permits. Pricing can vary based on the parking zones and by the proximity to downtown and Caltrain, allowing lower-income workers to walk farther to save money.

Pay-by-phone for workers combined with permits for residents allows for a very flexible, responsive system. Rates can be adjusted rapidly to better wrestle with demand. Where it makes sense, spaces can also accommodate other types of parking, such as short-term two-hour parking. The system can be easily expanded to encompass more spaces over time. This system conveniently addresses special cases such as "I am a Downtown North resident. My relative is visiting from Los Angeles. She needs an on-street parking space for 2 weekdays." The relative can use the pay-by-phone system to obtain a convenient space.

This sort of system is high tech, providing a user experience meeting the expectations of downtown workers of all categories (100% use mobile phones). It meets Council's desire for vigorous trip reduction (psychologically, paying for parking each workday "gnaws" at workers, encouraging them to ponder and try commute alternatives on a frequent basis. For an individual, the change away from single occupancy vehicle commuting is often thought through over a period of weeks). The system is low-cost to implement and can potentially be funded out of a percentage of ongoing parking revenue without up-front payment to smart parking vendors. There are multiple vendors that can provide this solution, so technology procurement can be expected to be competitive. This system represents a reasonable incremental approach and paves the way for higher-tech and higher-impact solutions in the future.

If permit and pay-by-phone prices are set to an efficient level, then convenient parking spaces are always available. This will reduce "cruising for parking," a phenomenon that generates 30% of local traffic volume in certain situations (according to UCLA parking guru Donald Shoup).

There are fancier parking technologies that may provide larger benefits in the future, but are probably not appropriate for immediate implementation.

Some web links for pay-by-phone (2 vendors followed by a planning blog):

Expert insights:

  • Elaine Uang, Green Planning Action: "I've used the SF pay by phone system many times and have the number programmed in my phone. Once you are set up it is wonderfully convenient. As for reducing cruising, I think pricing in general helps with that. The specific means (whether pay by phone or meters or RPPP) may vary in their extent. Unscientifically, my personal experience around Transamerica/Embarcadero/Jackson Square/Levi Plaza/area of SF is that pay by phone has reduced cruising just by virtue of freeing up parking spaces."
  • Adina Levin, Green Planning Action: "I strongly agree with pay by phone. I think this should be a technical requirement for updated parking payment systems. The biggest challenges for RPPP include: a) whether to do it, b) what the physical scope of the program is, c) who pays and how much? With these constraints defined, the system to implement should have technical requirements including: d) pay by phone, e) mobile app to find parking, f) data available for city analysis. For the mobile app (e), the SFPark mobile app uses an historical database with occupancy by time of day, day of week, and time of year to somewhat accurately estimate the number of free spaces on a street. In the long-term (for higher cost), a more fully instrumented system with sensors providing real-time space occupancy data is desirable. The last item above (f) may be the hardest to get. I talked to some parking technology vendors at a transportation technology event in Berkeley last month. They make money with data and try to keep their data proprietary. This should be unacceptable."

RESIDENT: Like this idea, but for one thing. Do lower paid workers have smart phones and credit cards?

CITIES21: If the City decides to study implementation of a pay-by-phone system, then there should be a focus group with some downtown retail workers. Whole Foods Market has a role within the downtown parking process - the system has to work for those workers. Some baristas and wait staff should participate in the focus group. These workers arrive at various times, so managing demand to keep convenient spaces open for them is important. If someone arrives downtown 10 minutes before work and becomes late because they are cruising for parking, that is bad.

In general, a downtown pay-by-phone system will have some PA customizations, so the study needs to identify key user groups and then validate that the design meets their needs.

The penetration of cell phones is high in the US. Low income workers find cell phones essential to manage their lives, so there is no income disparity.

If a low income worker doesn't have a credit card, there are other ways to link funds in the cloud, such as paypal accessing a checking account. But there are foreseeable scenarios where a few low income folks are stumped by such a system. For them, a parking meter would work well. But the city probably does not have near-term budget for parking meters. Today's high-tech parking meters allow a good set of payment mechanisms.

Discussion with a tech-savvy planning commissioner:

COMMISSIONER: It's not clear how pay-by-phone limits the number of cars on the street in residential areas.

CITIES21: The downtown parking studies show there are currently available permit spaces in the garages and there are always some free on-street spaces (though not always conveniently reachable). By creating a price, the permit program will reduce the number of residents who park on-street. Worker daily pricing should be fine-tuned to ensure a small percent of open spaces within each zone at all times and within 2 or 3 blocks of each resident within each zone. For high-demand zones close to downtown, daily worker pricing will be set higher than that for low-demand zones, to ensure that there are free spaces for residents. As far as implementation, parking enforcement staff should be able to collect on-street occupancy data on a regular basis, to assist in the fine-tuning of pricing. The communication of fine-tuned pricing creates a signage challenge, in that the current price for parking should be communicated on the signs. One solution would be to have signage that allows for printed thick stock paper with current pricing information to be inserted into the bottom half of the sign, with the sign providing a plastic envelope for weather protection for the paper insert. Hence, variable pricing may require enforcement staff to laboriously walk around inserting 200 pricing updates in signs.

What is the market clearing price for downtown worker parking? There is a US travel price elasticity of demand, but not one that is based on anything like downtown Palo Alto parking. There isn't a readily available consensus formula to generate the clearing price. That being said, we know that many of the lower-paid downtown workers are very, very price sensitive and are going to be candidates for parking in zones farther away from downtown to save $1 per day compared to closer zones. My sense is that a relatively low $2 or $3 per day for adjacent-to-downtown is going to be effective in dampening demand. (This would be a great query for some collection of expert input. Redwood City's experience with downtown meters provides some insight. Stanford pricing also sheds some light.) Surely on-street spaces near the Caltrain parking lot should be priced competitively to $5/day Caltrain parking pricing. The implementation of a daily worker parking system will also dampen demand initially, until workers adjust to it.

Implementing a worker daily parking system with uncertain pricing could generate some unease from downtown employers and employees. These stakeholders would prefer a price ceiling, whereas residents want a market price that can be adjusted up over time as demand increases.

COMMISSIONER: Pay-by-phone merely brings in revenue. The RPPP would actually limit the number of cars allowed on the street, so as to make spaces available to residents with permits. Worker pay-by-phone wouldn't solve the "delivery person needing a place to park" problem.

A) UPS trucks are very skilled at delivering packages when no legal parking spaces are available.
B) Worker daily pricing should be set to ensure a small percent of spaces are available, serving to further alleviate a portion of this problem.

COMMISSIONER: Worker pay-by-phone won't solve the "visitor to a resident needing a place to park" either.
CITIES21: Visitors will use the worker daily parking system to park on-street. This is a very efficient way to provide visitors with a couple of days of convenient parking.

CITIES21: In a theoretical, high-tech, politics-free world where all humans have the same value, each parking space should be instrumented, parking payment/reservation should be automated, pricing should be fine-grained and based on market conditions, and all parkers should be treated equally. This is politically impossible, but it is good to keep in mind that, from a purely theoretical planning standpoint, there is an ideal long-range, high-tech system for allocating parking efficiently and for maximizing progress towards city objectives.

COMMISSIONER: The idea that all parkers should be treated equally is not desirable. Residents should have priority over commuters, who should be limited to allow residents to park.

Comment on Palo Alto Weekly Dec 13 Article

Palo Alto Weekly's hurriedly-written and poorly-reasoned RPPP article. (Their article instigated a series of single-objections-within-a-large- tapestry-of-issues, zero-empathy comments. This is the classic narrow discussion by smart people that plagues PA's process.)

CITIES21: Rather than being separate issues, downtown RPPP and downtown trip reduction (TDM) are linked together. Because this fundamental linkage was not made, this article is not up to Weekly's standards. It should be removed and replaced with an article that comprehends Weekly's recent coverage on this linked topic. Weekly has taken the issue in an unhelpful, unrealistic direction.

Council has made a clear statement in favor of downtown traffic reduction. The use of residential permits and parking charges for workers reduces demand for downtown car travel. One objective of residential permits is to induce two-car families to convert to one-car plus other mobility services (Caltrain, bike, zipcar, etc). It appears that Simon Cintz and have provided a solution that works for their own stakeholders and ignores those of other stakeholders represented by Council. The challenge for Simon is to go back to the design drawing board and come up with a solution that is empathetic to more stakeholders.

For an empathetic-to-multiple-stakeholders design, can contribute a list of objectives for consideration within the process. There are some worthy "use cases" that jump out:
1. For Watercourse Way, Pen Creamery at Channing, and the hardware store, pricing should be set so that there are always open two-hour on-street parking spaces in that area for customers so that these worthy entities thrive economically.
2. Worker parking pricing should strive to meet the needs of retail workers, yet should also encourage the use of green commuting such as carpooling. Where an employer pays for a worker's parking, this does not provide motivation to reduce downtown travel - that is not in keeping with Council's objectives. Pen Creamery virtuously runs a van service to drive workers to work - a bit lower end than the Google Bus.