Via Erica Barnett, Adam Stein has a fascinating post on San Francisco’s move to start treating parking rationally. Here’s Stein on parking spaces: 

…their supply is fixed but the demand fluctuates greatly by day and by hour. For most goods, pricing matches supply with demand. But the price for parking is inflexible. Most spots are free. Others are metered at an artificially low rate. Residential permit parking creates local distortions. Private lots skim those willing to pay the most.

The traditional solution to parking problems is to increase the number of spots available, providing yet another subsidy to drivers and pushing yet another cost onto everybody else… Oversupply of parking encourages driving. Undersupply creates a lottery system in which people circle endlessly looking for a spot, or park illegally. In either case, the result is more congestion, more carbon emissions, and less livable cities.

San Francisco’s solution to the supply and demaind problem is just what you’d expect from a city of left-wing commie radicals: a free market.

The city will deploly variable pricing for parking spaces that will act very much like variable road pricing: it will more efficiently match demand to supply. As the SF Chronicle describes it:

…the city will adjust hourly parking rates based on demand – the price will go up when spaces are scarce and go down when plenty are available. People may be less inclined to drive during peak times if they know it will cost them more.

SFpark won’t stop at tweaking parking rates. It also will adjust time limits. Drivers, for instance, may be allowed to park for no more than an hour in a particular neighborhood commercial district during the day, when shopkeepers benefit from high turnover, but may be able to park longer at night, so they can linger at a restaurant or catch a show. Hours of meter operation might be expanded.

The plan will initially cover about one-quarter of the city, and it comes complete with some techno-groovy inducements that will make it easier to find parking and pay for it.

Personally, I’m just waiting to see how long it takes someone to call San Francisco’s plan “social engineering.” So, I’ll try to beat them to the punch. The way cities currently treat parking policy — like a Soviet bread line with fixed rations, or like a political chit to dole out to vested interests — now that’s social engineering.