With This Parking System, Your Search Is Over

San Francisco's new high-tech plan has parallels to congestion tolls.

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There are few things more frustrating than circling city blocks for parking spaces that never seem to materialize. Not only are you wasting your time, but you're also wasting precious fuel and spewing emissions into the air. The city of San Francisco thinks it has a solution: A new parking system that tallies the number of available spots, and raises and lowers the meter price of parking according to supply and demand.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the program, which will begin as a government-sponsored trial in September, will allow drivers to check the availability of parking throughout the city via BlackBerry or phone. Sensors embedded in the pavement will keep track of which spaces are empty and which are full. The program will also make it harder for San Franciscans to accidentally get a ticket: They can sign up for text-message alerts of when their meters are running low, and if they're out of change, can pay via credit card or cellphone.

The other eco-friendly benefit is that the rising price of parking may encourage people to use public transportation, taking cars off the roads. In this way, it's similar to other cities enacting congestion tolls to cut emissions from cars driving through at peak hours. But with prices for nearly everything under the sun rising, there are fears that small businesses and low-income families may get priced out of parking they truly need. EcoGeek points out, though, that the extra money spent for parking is money that would just as easily go into the gas wasted while circling neighborhoods.

If it works, the program could be adopted by cities across the United States. I wonder how it would do in my hometown of Pittsburgh, which has a fine system for finding and saving parking spaces. If you leave a space—especially one that has been cleared of snow—and put a folding or plastic chair in that space, you've marked your territory and the spot is yours. Though it's great that Pittsburghers respect their neighbors enough to not move the chair, as people would do in many other cities, it keeps other cars circling around for unclaimed spots and wasting gas. Perhaps some will downsize to a vehicle that can be parked anywhere—a bike.