San Luis Obispo needs to reevaluate its parking rates

February 8, 2024

Joe Benson


San Luis Obispo has an opportunity to put the traditional archaic approach to parking in the rear view mirror and shift gears by adopting a new approach that will result in a more efficient, pleasant parking experience for our community. Advancements in technology have paved the way for a far better approach to parking.

Traditional fixed-rate parking fees and static pricing models have proven to be ineffective, as they do not reflect the realities of supply and demand. A better approach lies in embracing innovation; specifically, demand-driven pricing. Smart sensors, data analytics, and mobile apps have made the implementation of demand-driven pricing possible with relatively minimal costs and allow drivers to access real-time information about parking availability and pricing, making it easier to make informed decisions.

With the correct implementation and proper change management (I’m not talking about coins), the City of SLO can implement this forward thinking approach to parking with minimal cost and disruption.

Demand driven pricing is the future

Demand driven pricing is a pricing strategy where rates are adjusted in real-time based on a set of factors like actual demand (or lack thereof), time of day, and special events. Instead of having fixed parking rates no matter how underutilized or over utilized parking inventory may be, demand-driven pricing allows for flexible prices that change up or down according to the current supply and demand conditions.

When demand is high, such as during busy hours or special events, the parking rates are raised to reflect that increased demand. Conversely, when demand is low, the rates are lowered to attract customers and fill available parking spaces. For reference, demand-driven pricing has already been implemented in some form in San Francisco, Seattle, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Washington DC, Austin, and Boston.

Enabling the success of our business community

Demand-driven pricing adapts to the real-time demand for parking, ensuring that prices align with the actual real time need for parking spaces. This not only maximizes the use of existing infrastructure, but more importantly, enables increased revenue for our downtown businesses by incentivizing people to come downtown during slower periods.

By charging higher prices during peak demand periods and lower prices during off-peak periods, businesses will see a net increase in sales and the city will see an increase in revenues from both parking fees and sales tax. These additional dollars can be reinvested back into our city to ensure it remains the special place we all love.

The current fixed-rate parking fee approach results in inefficient use of available spots because it does not account for the variations in demand for those spots. For example, the volume of vehicles and the resulting demand for a spot to park on a chilly Tuesday morning in January is far less than a pleasant Thursday night in May when everybody wants to be downtown. The current fixed rate approach does not consider that reality, and charges the same price in both conditions.

Setting the maximum price (the ceiling) and the minimum price (the floor) will be critical to success, and proper analysis will be needed to ensure both are set correctly. To be clear, the ceiling should be no higher than is charged under a fixed rate plan and the floor could be as low as $0 during certain off-peak periods.

Everybody wins with demand-driven pricing

San Luis Obispo is soliciting public input for its parking rate study on Feb. 13 and 14, and I encourage everyone to participate. If you agree with the idea outlined above, great. If you have a better idea, also great!

Either way, the current fixed rate approach is outdated and not serving the community properly. Demand-driven pricing is an empowering solution leveraging technology to address the challenges posed by our ever increasing population and continued dependence on automobiles. By optimizing parking space utilization, reducing traffic congestion, encouraging sustainable transportation choices, and maximizing revenues for our business community, demand-driven pricing is the best approach.

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The basic concept in private industry is called price gauging not unlike the Federal income tax system where Amazon pays zero and hard- working folks carry the deadbeats and big corps.

So, will I be able to get an app that shows the current price to park? Sort of like a stock ticker so I can watch the price fluctuations and time my purchase. Maybe the prices could be lower in the garages that are less full causing me to have to make a choice on whether I want to park a little farther away to negotiate a better price. Ridiculous!

I hate to tell you, but my life does not revolve around the current parking rates and that is not what drives my purchasing decisions. Convenience and price are what drive my purchasing decisions and downtown has neither. The only reason I go downtown is to go to the movies and I bet the parking prices have really had an impact on their ticket sales.

Meanwhile, upper Monterey is rotten. You would think, that a main corridor to the city, would get priority over a rarely used, $10 million bicycle lanes…

My wife and I used to love shopping at the stores in downtown SLO, at least until they put in the parking meters. NO MORE! I was told recently that Costco gets about 10,000 card holders in the store per day, plus who goes in with them.

So, you’ll pay an annual fee for the privilege to shop at Costco but refuse to pay for parking?

Five dollars, once month for parking downtown is sixty dollars per year. Wow same as Cosco’s annual membership. I choose to pay neither.

You seem to missing that for a Costco annual membership people get access to the low prices Costco is able to negotiate, a percentage back on all their purchases, as high as 4% for some, free parking, low cost travel and insurance services, and lets not forget $1.50 hot dog. For outrageous parking fees in the city people get, hmmmmmm, a pension system multi-billions in debt. Think I’ll stay with my Costco membership.

Yes, when everything and anything for my family, that haven’t been available downtown for decades, and at reasonably priced warehouse sizes and amounts, I’ll go to Costco without even thinking about it.

Bought and paid for by the mega stores, without even thinking about it.

Sounds like B.S. to me.

Demand driven, adaptive pricing is a great idea, if I could snap my fingers and make it happen I would. However, I think there are two issues: first the cost of implementing adaptive pricing infrastructure and information systems would be expensive, and that expense comes during the construction of a new parking structure – one major project at a time. Second, I think the lack of consistency and “transparency” would be a difficult pill for SLO residents to swallow – I can imagine a lot of very unhappy NIMBY residents will continue to be really upset they have to pay any anything for parking, let alone a rate that rises and is a “surprise” (it wont be a surprise, anyone can check before the visit, but they won’t). Again, good idea, but it’ll only work if you get the details right.

Until they reevaluate employee compensation they are going to need to increase everything to pay those outrageous compensation packages.

Exactly, just like cities and counties continue to increase permit fees, it’s not for any better service to the public.