Politics over policy

Paid Sunday parking meters benefit drivers, businesses, and Muni riders. So why did the plan get killed?

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Joe@sfbg.com

Paid Sunday parking meters were unanimously repealed by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors on April 15.

Sunday meters will be free starting July 1, a losing proposition for many, including seniors and people with disabilities who advocated for free Muni passes at the same SFMTA meeting.

There's a dire need. Betty Trainer, board president of Seniors & Disability Action, relayed a senior's story printed on one of 500 cards collected by her advocacy group.

"I'm often cold and can't walk like I used to," Trainer read aloud. "Most days I'm stuck in my room on my own. Help me out. No one should be a recluse for lack of money."

In increasingly expensive San Francisco, seniors and people with disabilities often can't afford to take a bus. They asked the SFMTA board to grant them mobility, but were denied.

Tom Nolan, president of the SFMTA Board of Directors, said it would be a matter of "when, not if" the board would revisit funding free Muni for elderly and disabled passengers, and would likely take up the question again in January.

Yet many who spoke out at the meeting hammered home the point that paid Sunday meters could have easily covered the cost of such a program.

Meanwhile, a SFMTA study found that paid Sunday meters also made life easier for drivers and business proprietors. So why would the SFMTA board vote down a measure with so many benefits?

Ultimately, the decision on Sunday meters stemmed from political pressure from the Mayor's Office. The vote reflects decision-making not predicated on whether the policy worked or not, but whether it could be sacrificed to gain political leverage.

 

GOOD FOR EVERYBODY

The SFMTA's December 2013 "Evaluation of Sunday Parking Management" study may not sound like entertaining bedtime reading, but the report identifies surprising biggest winner of the paid Sunday meter program: drivers.

"It is now easier to find parking spaces in commercial and mixed use areas on Sundays," the report begins. Between 2012 and 2013, the average parking availability on Sunday doubled during metered hours, increasing from 15 percent to 31 percent. Parking search times were lowered as well.

Sunday drivers in 2012 spent an average of 14 minutes circling for a spot; in 2013, the average was dramatically reduced to four minutes.

That created a ripple effect benefiting businesses too, as higher turnover meant more customers cycling through parking spaces, something the business advocates have pointed out.

"You can drive into merchant areas now where you couldn't before," Jim Lazarus, senior vice president of public policy at the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, told us in an interview for a previous story.

Paid Sunday meters also provided sorely needed funding for Muni.

The SFMTA's most recent budget projection anticipated that paid Sunday meters would yield as much as $11 million. The already approved Free Muni for Youth program and the stalled free Muni for seniors and people with disabilities program would cost Muni about $9 million, all told.

That nearly direct cost correlation could be the reason why the free Muni issue got wrapped into arguments against repealing paid Sunday meters.