Why Owning a Car in SF Doesn’t Make Sense

When cars have nightmares they dream of being in San Francisco.

It’s the first US city to measure its parking spaces. There are 441,541 spaces. Over 280,000 on streets, 25,000 of which are metered. With a population of 815,358 (residents, not including out of towners and commuters)…that’s 1.8 people per spot, and 3 people for every spot on the street. Yikes!

There’s talk of a new strategy to help with the crisis. Meters will have censors determining spot availability, which drivers will have access to by phone. Over time, prices to park will rise on popular spaces, while less demanded spots (are there any?) will be cheaper. The idea is that certain spots become expensive enough that some people will opt to take public transportation instead. Supply and demand should work to tame the parking monster.


However, while San Francisco may be moving in the right direction, it’s still an unfriendly city for parking. Here’s why:

You better plan events in two hour increments:

Just about anywhere you go in the city you have two hours to get your task done. After that, you face a nasty ticket around $65. While this may be entirely necessary due to the unfortunate ratio of cars to spots, it’s still a total drag and makes a car feel like deadweight. Below is a map of all residential zones. Avoid these spots to find the spots for longer increments than 2 hours.

The Mysterious Concrete Slabs:

The way San Francisco was designed, houses are squished together on steep hills, with a little piece of concrete slab in between them; it’s just too small to fit a normal sized car or not block someone’s driveway.

Tickets and tolls:

Here are some fun Parking ticket stats from the Parkzing blog from last year in San Francisco:

  • 1,706,510 tickets issued to 708,162 different license plates.
  • Grand total: $103,639,392.
  • 407,295 cars received only 1 ticket.
  • Most expensive ticket: $650 for parking in a disabled spot.
  • Most ticketed car: 398 tickets totalling $26,363.
  • Most ticketed make: Toyota.
  • Most ticketed day: Tuesday.
  • Most tickted date: January 2 (8299 tickets). [Jan 2nd fell on a Friday in 2009]
  • Least ticketed date: December 25 (111 tickets).
  • Most ticketed hour: Noon hour (by almost 70%!).
  • Most-issued ticket: T37C (Street cleaning) for $27,784,243 in fines.

To the left is a heatmap by Spatialkey of the most ticketed areas. They explain:

“They get people along Market street. Right at the Westfield Shopping Center is a prime spot, as well as the intersections of  Market and O’farrell and near Market and Sutter…Out of the total parking citations in this dataset (82,911) about 42% (34,695) are issued just within the downtown area shown in the screenshot.”

Street Cleaning: It’s awful and it’s standard. You can’t avoid it, but the Parkzing App is designed to help you with this, informing you which sides of the street you can and can’t park on.


Driving will Drive you Crazy

In a lot of ways, driving cars in San Francisco simply doesn’t make sense. Gas, maintenance and other issues make San Francisco a pretty expensive place to own a car (Maintenece costs 7.35 cents-per-mile in SF). Traffic can be horrific during rush-hour, and the steep streets can be a challenge (up to a 30.5% grade). However, in just as many ways, San Francisco public transit, with its overcapacity and notorious trackrecord of being untimely, unfriendly, unsafe, and undersupplied, also doesn’t make sense.

At Uber, we hope to take part in changing the outdated transportation system for the better. While owning a car might not make sense, getting picked up in one, certainly can, and we hope to make it easier and more convenient to do just that.

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