USC’s Jim Moore on High Speed Rail defunding in the LA Times

Jim Moore is the chair of the Epstein Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering at USC. He has a Op-Ed in the LA Times which ran last Monday. Tune in here.

The congressional action means that California will not get the $19 billion in federal grant support the authority was counting on receiving by 2016, nor (almost certainly) the $2.4 billion in grants that Florida’s governor declined. Technically, Congress’ agreement did not rescind roughly $3.75 billion in federal grants to California, but this commitment is also at risk. About $715 million has not been obligated and could be easily rescinded. The remainder of these funds is obligated, and rescinding them would be more difficult but not impossible.

California taxpayers would benefit greatly from rescission, because every dollar Congress finds the courage to rescind from the California rail project is a dollar the state no longer has to match.

Given Jim’s previous research, I suspect that Jim would argue that HSR is just plain a bad investment overall. We’ve not discussed it.

Advocates of high speed rail have tried various attempts to portray HSR opponents as backwards or ignorant or part of the “culture war.” The latest attempt came from Steven Harrod on Harrod, an operations research guy, makes a bunch of arguments, all of which boil down to “those Tea Party people are parochial and ignorant and just don’t get how great trains are.” They associate trains with Europe and socialism and values they fear.

Or, alternatively, these iggnerant people recognize a massively expensive public project without a sustainable finance plan when they see one.

High Speed Rail advocates made it very very easy for the Tea party and the Republicans to shoot this proposal down. Every time somebody criticized their “plan”, they responded with “these critics are mean bad poopyheads” instead of strengthening their plan by addressing those criticisms. HSR blogs and commenters have tried to bully and outshout any criticism, no matter how reasonable or valid, rather than shore up their plans.

Thus, when the plan went national, it had political and budgetary holes that helped people unsympathetic to the plan to kill it off.

By refusing to acknowledge that there is no free money out there, high speed rail advocates have put their own projects at odds people like me, who would normally be sympathetic but who hate using general fund revenues for transportation projects when user-based revenues can and should pay for part (not all–nobody said all) of the project’s bond obligations.

Note: I voted no on Prop 1a, which unfortunately passed, which sought $10B in high speed rail funding for California based on general obligation bonds.

I would have considered voting yes on a Proposition 1a that proposed to raise the California gas tax by 3 cents for special fund to seed high speed rail infrastructure bonds until the service was up and running.

I have no fear of Europe (except for some of those men in Speedos, and some of those little old ladies on the subway have really sharp pokey fingers to get you to move when they want past you). I am not afraid of socialism. I am not backwards midwesterner who has never outside my state line, let alone never traveled on a fancy Asian train. I am not a member of the Tea Party. I even gots me a fancy PhD.

I just like to know that when we plan a big project we have a grown-up financing plan behind it.

Alex Marshall being wrong about gas taxes

In what I guess is supposed to be a take-down of the Reason Foundation folks, the normally interesting and reflective Alex Marshall explains that gas taxes are not user fees in Governing.

Marty Wachs wrote my favorite piece on how gas tax taxes mirror user fees about a decade ago: A Dozen Reasons to Raise the Gas Tax.

No, gas taxes are not perfect proxies for car usage. They vary by vehicle make. But in reality, gas taxes are the closest thing we have to proxying for a pollution tax or carbon tax. We may wish for policy reasons to tax gasoline consumption more than we wish to charge for system usage. For system usage, our major externalities are congestion and accidents, and while it would be really nice to charge based on mileage or time of day for either of those, I’ll just not hold my breath and wait for that public policy to develop.

Even though most analyses show that gas taxes are regressive, these taxes are pretty low in the US, and thus are pretty socially responsible even though low income people do pay proportionately more.

In other words, gas taxes are use-based taxes, and they work an awful lot like user fees, even if they are not strictly user fees. And making this distinction isn’t really as useful as Marshall would like it to be.

Ultimately, Marshall wants to use this issue to argue that car users don’t pay their own way, and so Reason Foundation people should stop criticizing Federal money for high speed rail and sidewalks. By all means, go ahead and make that argument–as if anybody really cares because it’s not like we haven’t been listening to this “cars get subsidized” argument for the last 25 years.

But come on. Do we really think that cities would be better off without surface streets paid for out of property taxes? What are bicyclists supposed to bike on without streets? What are buses meant to run on? And is it really the case that we need federal money for sidewalks? Why can’t local property taxes pay for sidewalks?

Even though gas taxes may not cover the full costs of roads, the gas tax has paid for a lot of public transit in the US and–more significantly–around the world.

It’s pretty clear that Alex Marshall really knows little about finance and budgeting and that he’s used to preaching to a choir over at Governing because he’s not bothering with research for his posts:

I went to the grocery store today and bought an apple. While eating it, I complained that proceeds from the sales tax I paid were used for other things than agricultural support programs.

Ok, again–do some research. Food at grocery stores is only subject to sales taxes in a really small number of places. All of which are evil places, like Mississippi and Alabama.*

(I suspect that Marshall lives in New York. So he’s wrong. He doesn’t pay sales taxes on apples from the grocery store, unless NYC has a special “Alex Marshall tax” on apples.)

He goes on:

Plus, once we pay the gas tax, we have no choice about where the money goes. When I fill up my car with gas, I can’t choose that the tax money goes to repair the potholes on my street instead of the brand new interchange on the other side of the state. However, once I do pay the gas tax, I can use one stretch of road or a bridge as many times as I like with no additional charge. That’s not a user fee. There’s a reason the gas tax is called a tax—because it is one.

Okay…but if you drive on that same stretch of road 100 times, you will, in fact, use more gasoline than if you drive on it once, and you will pay more tax related to your usage. No, the gas tax isn’t a perfect proxy for a mileage fee, time-of-day pricing, or a toll, but it’s not completely unrelated to use, either.

And it’s not like you have any real choice about where your user fee money goes either. There are plenty of cross-subsidies in the national park system. And why wouldn’t there be? If didn’t need cross-subsidies to run something, it’s probably a private rather than a public good. Governments exist to handle cross-subsidies and distributional conflicts.

And (again) just because a government service charges a user fee doesn’t mean that user fee covers the full costs of the program. Transit is everybody’s prime example of that: we pay fares, and most systems still require operating subsidies. But plenty of programs charge user fees and supplement services with general revenues, such as garbage collection. So whether the gas tax is a user fee isn’t really germane to what Marshall wants to say: we could undercharge drivers with user fees just as easily as we have undertaxed gasoline.

I repeat: the gas tax has served the US remarkably well for decades. It’s an easy tax to pay–drivers pay in small amounts at point-of-purchase, and even if it hasn’t paid the full freight of auto infrastructure–or any other infrastructure and even if it isn’t strictly a user fee.

I’m so tired of the “it’s not fairrrrrrrr that cars don’t pay their way but trains are expected to” whine.

Nobody among mainstream transport finance researchers actually expects transit users to pay their way based on some idea that car users somehow pay their own way. This shadowboxing about subsidies with the Reason Foundation is a waste of time, and it distracts transit advocates from doing what they need to do in order to get our transit infrastructure finance and subsidies in order: pursue a) prudential investment so that comparatively productive public transit investment take precedence over unproductive investments (e.g., light rail in Buffalo) and b) a responsible finance plan for high speed rail rather than the puff and smoke and amateurish general revenue grabs we’ve watched for the last year around high speed rail.

*With my apologies, but it is evil to charge sales taxes on food. It’s a regressive enough tax without charging on grocery store food. Some other states charge on groceries, but they rebate the tax. Still evil. Don’t do it.

Foster kids, secondhand clothing, and citizen experts I sincerely wish would STFU

Michigan Senator Bruce Casswell has introduced legislation that would give foster children vouchers only good at used clothing stores, so that they can not “waste” state money buying themselves new clothing. He has argued that it’s a cost-saving measure.

There is an outcry, simply because on its surface, the proposal is mean. There are also all the stories about single mothers who themselves alone without handouts bravely provided for their children with only thrift store clothing, etc. etc. Republicans say that buying used clothing is recycling! So it’s pro-environmental, too! Those of you who think that secondhand clothing are bad need to get rid of your elitist attitudes! Well, MY daughter wears nothing but vintage and secondhand clothing and she looks great!

Blah blah blah blah. Natter natter natter.

I suppose we live in a world where, if you want to call yourself a democrat with a small d, you have to pretend that all these blithering personal anecdotes about secondhand clothing amount to intelligent contributions to policy debate. However, most of these comments just remind me of this story from the Onion: Open-minded man grimly realizes how much life he has wasted listening to bullshit.

Now, I am on the side of single mothers, in general, and I am always impressed by anybody who can tell the story of raising kids on one, female salary.

But that doesn’t mean that everybody can do it, or that it’s desirable, or that we should set policy according to what personally happened to somebody once.

And even if your personal history as a single mother with success using secondhand stores were relevant, which it’s not, and stupendously interesting, which it may be, the policy issue affects foster kids, not you, your children, or children in families headed by an adult, any adult, single, female, or otherwise.

They are, I repeat, foster kids. They may have nobody. And they may have a parent that they, themselves, sneak money to, rather than a gloriously together, competent parent who can make it work (and who can try to get resources from her extended family; remember, these are foster kids, which means the extended family network is thin or stretched.)

IOW, foster care policy is, really, not about you and what worked or didn’t for you, in all your self-mythologizing glory. Go write a memoir if it’s really all that interesting.

I strongly suspect that the money-cutting issue is basic smoke for this Casswell character to get his name in the news because I can’t believe the program change would amount to diddly squat in terms of real money saved. Minutiae politics, again: take a small-money program that serves a powerless group, wrap it up in large-scale emotional tropes for your constitutes (frugality, being independent, staying off the dole), puff like crazy, and then attempt to ride to a political win.

So let’s say this is a big-money program, which it’s not, but let’s pretend.

If there is one SCREAMINGLY OBVIOUS CONCLUSION from our past policy experience with programs for poor families, it’s that programs where we try to engineer their lives and their choices cost us more than any savings we might get from constraining choices, and those additional costs are always time and transactions costs.

Do I want social workers with 300 kid caseloads spending their time in thrift stores? No. Do I want foster parents spending their time in thrift stores? No. Not if they don’t think it’s a good use of time. If they enjoy the treasure hunt, fine. But if it’s taking them away from baseball, helping with homework, or earning extra money, then no.

So if the concern is that the allowances given to children are too high, then cap it and then let them optimize according to their preference. Be done with it.

Republicans supposedly believe in the free market. The reasons for simply giving the allowance and staying out of people’s lives come down to information and preferences–things markets are good at sorting and serving.

So we give a kid $200 a year (I doubt it, but let’s say we do). Who cares if they spend it all on one pair of really fancy jeans and four packs of Hane’s men’s t-shirts, some bras and undies, and a pair of Chuck’s? (my uniform) Plenty of teenage girls are the size they are going to be for a long time: why shouldn’t they buy something that has more wear in it? Or if a kid wants 50 pairs of torn jeans from a thrift store? Again, who cares which one they choose? It’s all the same amount of money. $200 = $200. Kids that prefer the latter can do the latter, and it is a form of recycling. How about you affix an allowance and let kids cash-out or save-forward the benefit they don’t use? There’s an incentive to be thrifty.

The main problem I have with the thrift store idea concerns the transaction costs of thrift store buying. Thrift store buying makes the most sense for little kids and small children who outgrow their clothing before they wear the clothing out. So shopping for younger kids is not much of an issue–people take their kids’ outgrown clothing readily to thrift stores, and there is a lot of choice, and there is often a lot of wear left in that clothing. With smaller kids, you don’t have to spend days on end looking for things.

For older children, the time costs of looking in thrift stores becomes a much bigger factor.
If you are hard to fit, the idea that you will simply roll into the thrift store and buy your size 9 E shoes (my shoe size) is ludicrous. Why? Because there are about 2 pairs of shoes made each year that fit me, and thus I wear them until they fall apart, no matter how ugly or expensive they are. So the foster kid who has size 9E feet is out of luck. Ditto for the teenage boy or girl who is 6’6”.

Do I want people with 9E shoes walking around their feet stuffed into size 9 shoes? No. Even though I did it the entire time I was growing up, largely because what I suffered through, though unfortunate, is not salient except to the degree that it gives me empathy.

Nor do I want a kid who is already probably feeling pretty gawky due to his size having to walk around with Erkel flood pants because that’s all he could find at Goodwill. It wasn’t a good look for Erkel.

I suppose under this “free-market” solution from Mr. Caswell we could require people like me turn in their 9E shoes every 2 years so that the wide of footed foster kids can properly learn frugality and their second-tier place in the blossoming American caste system.

Finally, there’s the idea that poor kids’ time is meaningless, that they can just spend their time sifting through thrift store bins. Brilliant. So while my friends’ children get to spend their time shopping online and studying for the SAT, foster kids get to spend their time not doing those things and looking for their thrift store treasures. BRILLIANT.

I love regulatory time-grabs from poor people. Swell policy! I mean, they have so much time. In between having sex out of wedlock, smoking, waiting in line for their lavish welfare checks, watching soap operas, and feeding Pepsi to their grubby kids, they just have all the time in the world.

I suppose we could feed these kids watery gruel and send them to break up rocks with chain gangs to offset the cost burden to the state. Or we could have them look for Coronado’s gold by digging holes in the desert. Something where they get off the back of hardworking people like me.

Rolf Pendall on upstate sprawl and a commentary on urban social science

In answer to my questions the other day about Aaron Renn’s idea that sprawl is driving to fiscal crisis for cities like Buffalo, Rolf Pendall from the Urban Land Institute sent along a link to a 2003 report he penned for Brookings: Sprawl Without Growth.

You can download the entire report in addition to reading the summary of the findings. Among the culprits are those I suggested in the post–greater individual incentives to sprawl–and some I didn’t think of (and should have) like high tax differentials between cities and outlying areas.

Pendall also grouched at me for suggesting that there is only direction of causation, arguing that urban systems are complex, adaptive systems–not mechanistic ones.

So what does it mean for systems to be complex and adaptive? Changes in any part of the system can prompt individuals to change their behavior and vice versa–that is, there isn’t one direction of causation, and multiple factors can cause the same change, or the same change can cause different subsidiary changes, and changes can either reinforce other factors of change (as I suspect is the case with fiscal crisis urban outmigration), or there can be multiple, overlapping, and conflicting factors.

I would argue that I didn’t suggest in my original post that there is only one direction of causation, but that’s clearly what he read, so let’s throw down over it. I did suggest, and I still do, that Renn has attributed causation to the wrong factor when suggesting that cities are broke due to sprawl. (Nonetheless, Renn’s probably right in that sprawl is probably reinforcing other factors that are driving central city fiscal crises even if it isn’t causing it per se.)

Since Rolf is one of those people I look up to, the comment struck a cord because the complex, adaptive system argument is everywhere. And it is both a) probably absolutely 100 percent correct and b) an excuse for extremely poor scholarship among urban planners.

As an urban planner in a school dominated by economists, I live in the whipsaw between the complex, adaptive argument and the mechanistic argument.

The complex, adaptive systems argument indeed allows us to see the many many nuances and factors in play.

It as often as not leads us to one descriptive, noninformative, blithering case history after another, where what’s deemed causal by the end comes down to whatever the planning scholar wants. Like “we need more transit, more urban growth boundaries, more of my pet policies because those all clearly worked here.” If, at any point, somebody raises a counter example of how, say, more transit accomplished very little, the response can always be “But these are complex, adaptive systems and you can’t generalize.” Well, you just generalized from your case. “But my case is exemplary.”

If I had a dime for every time an urban planner has given this talk in front of my economist and quantitive political science colleagues to be met with eye rolling and general disdain, I would be looking for a house in Beverly Hills now.

The other side of the whipsaw are the urban economists, who hope to find more generalizable knowledge and, thus, more mechanistic causal relationships.

As often as not, they have carefully controlled for every variable under the sun. They have found the cleverest instrumental variable known to mankind. They have used a marvelous fixed effect that has captured (in a general way) the nuanced differences from one administrative jurisdiction to another. They have thus produced a model that shows, definitively, that time costs matter when people select travel modes. No shit.

And my students wonder why I’m bitchy.

Both planners and economists are going to object to my characterization–and these are two, reductive extremes–but I stick by it. I hear this argument every damn day in some form. The economists use it to try to claim they are better than the planners, the planners use it to argue they are better than the economists.

As usual, I’m a person with a foot in both worlds with divided loyalties.

My preference, though I doubt there’s much merit, is to accept the belief that the world is complex, we can’t model everything (but neither can we describe everything–ask a historian; choices have to made about what is in and out of our memories) and that our knowledge of the phenomenon in any situation is miserably partial. Nonetheless, it’s worth making the effort to try to capture the complexities and exigencies using history on the one hand, and to try to look for the dominant levers to affect change on the other hand (seeking generalizability).

I have no big rationale for believing as I do, other than giving up on the idea that the truth is out there would put me out of job. The endgame of the first extreme is that nothing is truly generalizable; everything is happening for the first time and the only time, as everything depends on context. The end game of the second extreme is dancing on the head of a pin. Both are a lot work for remarkably little payoff in terms of knowledge.

High Speed Rail and Hothouse Capitalism in the New York TImes

Stanford historian Richard White discusses Obama’s high speed rail plan in the New York Times, likening federal commitment to high speed rail to the Pacific Railway Act of 1864. He concludes that the Railway Act saddled the Feds with decades of debt:

As more astute members of Congress came to recognize, the subsidies were a mistake. One described the major drawback of a proposal for the government to guarantee bonds: “If there be profit, the corporations may take it; if there be loss, the government must bear it.”

After 1872, the country turned against the subsidizing of large corporations. It was a little late. Fraud and failure left a legacy that would lead to four decades of government attempts to get back what had so carelessly been given away. In the 1890s, Congress was still trying to recover money from the Pacific Railway.

White is a historian, so he has a specific story to tell, but the point he makes here really describes the basic conundrum of infrastructure finance and privately funded infrastructure. Private investors are looking to make profits and minimize risks. Governments can manage both of those, but they need resources to do it. If profitable parts of the system have to go to investors, governments have to look to taxpayers for money for any guarantees. The possibility arises–more often than not–the governments are then left with bill for capital costs and shut out of the user fees (in this case, ticket money) they can then use to retire any bond debt.

White comments on how foolish the state of California has been in not dealing with these fiscal realities:

Without bond guarantees, private investors, which so far seem more prone to due diligence than the California High-Speed Rail Authority, have yet to put up money. The most astonishing thing is that even as financial problems force California to dismantle its social safety net, eviscerate its educational system, and watch its roads crumble, it has agreed on a plan for high-speed rail that demands substantial local subsidies and certainly will involve further concessions by the state to attract private investment.

He also comments on the tendency of the industry to overpromise benefits:

Proponents of the transcontinental railroads promised all kinds of benefits they did not deliver. They claimed that the railroads were needed to save the Union, but the Union was already saved before the first line was completed. The best Western farmlands would have been settled without the railroads; their impact on other lands was often environmentally disastrous. For three decades California commodities could move more cheaply, and virtually as quickly, by sea. The subsidies the railroads received enriched contractors and financiers, but nearly all the railroads went into receivership, some multiple times; the government rescued others.

HT to Frank Popper

Being affluent and not knowing it

Americans are, for the most part, rich. I’m rich, for sure, though I didn’t start out that way.

But one of the worst things about privilege–any type, is that it makes you blind to it. You don’t see its invisible web, holding you up. Perhaps nowhere is this more apparent than class privilege or white privilege.

Andrew Gellman, political scientist at Columbia and one of my favorite academic bloggers, writes about Catherine Rampell’s story in the New York Times

Catherine Rampell highlights this stunning Gallup Poll result:

6 percent of Americans in households earning over $250,000 a year think their taxes are “too low.” Of that same group, 26 percent said their taxes were “about right,” and a whopping 67 percent said their taxes were “too high.”
OK, fine. Most people don’t like taxes. No surprise there. But get this next part:

And yet when this same group of high earners was asked whether “upper-income people” paid their fair share in taxes, 30 percent said “upper-income people” paid too little, 30 percent said it was a “fair share,” and 38 percent said it was too much.
30 percent of these upper-income people say that upper-income people pay too little, but only 6 percent say that they personally pay too little. 38% say that upper-income people pay too much, but 67% say they personally pay too much.

Gellmana and Rampell in general agree: the gap probably reflects ignorance about population statistics. Probably true, But I also suspect it reflects my basic point: if you’ve grown up affluent and remain affluent, you are unlikely to understand that you are, in fact, quite wealthy. In fact, you are likely to argue that you are middle income, since celebrity culture of the US surrounds you with images of the super super super rich, and since you are not them, you are probably on the average side of higher income but not really rich.

Sprawl and decline, and reversing the directions of causation

Aaron Renn, the Urbanphile, has a post up arguing that cities are broke because of sprawl. Oh boy. Go read.

I have trouble believing that Buffalo is going broke because of sprawl. It’s such an extreme case of industry loss over the last 40 years that it’s hard for me to use it as an exemplar for any urban phenomenon other than “a place where the weather makes Dr. Schweitzer want her mommy.”

So what’s my point about the direction of causation? In a place like Buffalo, where populations began to decline due to employment loss and demographic shifts, land prices go down, and so larger lots become comparatively more affordable to the people there who remain a) employed and b) in the housing market. My friend who teaches in Rochester, for example, routinely sends me the absolutely beautiful homes she thinks about buying.

This is what you can buy in the Fillmore area of Buffalo for $115,000. SWEET CRACKER SANDWICH that’s a big honking house on a big honking parcel of land.

Voila Capture37

For comparison, I looked for comparable 3,800 square foot houses anywhere in the Bay Area, and it’s just not happening. I don’t know that market as well as I know LA, so looking there, I find this little darling (holy buckets) in Sherman Oaks:

Voila Capture38

Ok, apples and oranges, and all that, but still: $115K in relatively suburban Buffalo versus $1.5 million in suburban Los Angeles. Yes, wages are different, but I am pretty sure I don’t make 15 times as much as a university professor at SUNY Buffalo.

And in Buffalo, your suburban life really carries few transport-housing costs trades, either, because as population goes down, your travel costs go down (no congestion of any real magnitude). Fuel costs, yes, the costs that Buffalo winters take out of vehicles, yes, but time costs–low. The incentives for individuals in these places to consume land is nicely set, and the city/regional government is not in a strong position to implement growth controls when they are not growing.

I suspect that Detroit is rather like Buffalo’s story; decades of industry decline and outsourcing leave very few reasons for young people to stay there, or for immigrants to move there. Other than it’s cheap.

But Renn’s claim about Chicago is hard to reconcile. The Chicago metro area grew, and Chicago is a region with multiple urban centers (like most thriving metros).

The city of Chicago has been a darling amongst planners for doing everything right for past decade: they cleaned up their downtown, you can’t turn around without hitting a pedestrian walkway, public art smacks you in the eyeball every time you look up from your iphone, pocket parks galore, and they have invested heavily in every part of their transit. If that’s a pro-sprawl, laissez-faire central city government, I’m a size 2 (hint: I ain’t). So what’s up with that? Chicago usually ranks pretty low or moderate on sprawl indexes as well. So either those policies aren’t working, which is bad news, or something else is going on. According to one of the commenters, Chicago’s policy and planning methods haven’t had enough “teeth.” What teeth, exactly, can the city use to try to starve it suburbs? And how smart would that be? Most New Urbanist and Smart Growth tools are voluntary, incentive and amenity-based strategies. They are not widely implemented with teeth. How do you lay down an urban growth boundary when your city is surrounded by other cities? If you think regional governance is the answer, you have never ever attended a meeting at the South Coast Association of Governments.

The bottom line is that investments in infrastructure on the fringe of declining regions make little sense–that’s Renn’s major point, and of course he’s right–but I can’t credit his connection between being broke and sprawl. There’s probably a connection between tax aversion and suburbanization, but I don’t think Chicago, Detroit, and Buffalo are suffering from the same urban malaise, unless that malaise is “too damn much snow for the human mind to fathom.”

If sprawl is the reason we’re broke, why are states having trouble financially? The Federal government? It’s not like they pay for water infrastructure to serve irresponsible, bloodsucking suburbanites.

SFPark launch–and, yes, there’s an iphone ap for it

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority is launching SFPark today, and it’s arguably the most innovative program I’ve seen in years–years–right along with at-grade bus and train car entrances. (Small things make a huge difference). And I say this after watching us spend a lot of money on intelligent transportation system research.

Anyhoozy, SFPark is using new sensors and electronic monitoring from meters to allow customers to locate parking spaces, including those in the 20 parking garages owned by SFMTA. I’m thinking that if I owned a private lot or garage, I’d be pestering SFMTA to let me find a way to put my open parking spots on the map, too.

You can search by neighborhood. The pilot neighborhoods are places where, frankly, there is no parking (I’m teasing! The value added of the tool helps you find the few spots that are open so that you don’t cruise around neighborhoods that have congested parking…):

1. Marina
2. Fisherman’s Wharf
3. Filmore
4. Civic Center
5. Financial District
6. SoMa
7. Mission

This is what a query of the Financial District got me just now:

Voila Capture36


I haven’t tried the iphone ap, given that I don’t drive, park, or live in San Francisco, but let me know how it works if you do….