Are residents angry at bureaucratic bungling — or just with the loss of free street parking?
"If people are opposed to paying 25 cents per hour, the lowest rate in the city, then they are opposed to paying for parking," Primus said. He said it's a matter of equity among citizens: "There's nothing equitable about providing parking for free and asking people to pay $4 for a round trip Muni ride."
That's a notion that is echoed by others who say it's time for motorists to start paying their fair share.
"Everybody wants something for nothing. We all want that. Nobody wants to pay for parking, not even me," Don Shoup, the UCLA professor who wrote the influential book The High Cost of Free Parking, told us. He later added, "That whining you hear is the sound of change."
At a time when governments are hurting for revenue to provide basic services — among them, maintaining extensive roadway systems for motorists whose taxes don't come anywhere near covering their societal impacts — he said it just doesn't make sense to continue subsidizing the storage of automobiles.
"San Francisco has some of the most valuable land on earth. You have expensive housing for people and free parking for cars. It's not surprising that San Francisco has homeless people and traffic congestion," Shoup said. "There was never a city that is so liberal about other people's affairs and so conservative about its own affairs."
But Shoup did agree with critics that the real goal of managing parking isn't to discourage driving, although he applauds the SFpark program for using its increased revenue on public transit, which he thinks makes sense from a social justice perspective.
Jason Henderson, a professor of geography at San Francisco State and author of an upcoming book on the politics of parking and mobility, goes even further than Shoup in saying that San Francisco should use its parking policies to discourage driving. But at the very least, Henderson said it is counterproductive to offer free parking.
"The city is giving away valuable real estate with all of this free and underpriced curbside parking at a time when the city's transportation infrastructure is crumbling and essential city services for parks, after school programs, and libraries are constantly being cut. And here we have thousands of acres of real estate just being given away," Henderson told us.
"If anything, it needs to be done citywide so that it's judicious and level, so that merchants won't say that people won't come to their neighborhood because they can go to a different neighborhood where there's free parking."
Primus said there is a particularly strong need to manage parking around Mission Bay and the North Mission, where much of the city's growth is occurring.
"In a way, the SFMTA is catching up with the growth of the city. These are some of the last remaining areas that are residential-commercial mixed use areas with no parking management," Primus said.
Kelly agrees that time has come, but he doesn't think the SFMTA has helped its case, particularly given the emotions surrounding the issue and the need to maintain public support for improved transit service.
"They've been spending all their waking hours in the last couple years pissing people off over parking meters, do you really think people will then support their revenue proposals?" Kelly questioned.
Lum and Caroligne both said the SFMTA should have been willing to make the fundamental argument to people that the days of free parking are coming to an end.
"That's where a lot of the anger is coming from, you're doing this for all these reasons that don't make sense and treating us like children," Caroligne said, although she also added, "I agree with you that there would still be some outrage, even if the outreach had been better."