Parking systems are one of the most potent tools available to city governments. If used effectively, they can allow urban planners to control congestion, improve local economies, and generate considerable revenue to address infrastructure needs. Unfortunately, Chicago surrendered control over our meters when Mayor Daley and the City Council chose to privatize the system in late 2008. As a result, residents will likely have to wait a long, long time before seeing any innovative experiments like the SFPark pilot project launching in San Francisco this summer.
The SFPark system uses streetside sensors that wirelessly transmit whether a parking space is occupied or not. The benefits of this real-time data are fascinating: Those look for parking can find empty spots using their mobile devices; the city can employ a "demand-responsive" pricing system that increases or decreases parking rates depending on the current degree of congestion; and enforcement officers can quickly identify violators.
It's an experiment worth keeping an eye on.