Reset Rating: B+ (12.5 out of 15)

By: Katie Short


For that Saturday drive to Golden Gate Park, toting a picnic, you no longer need to stop by a Bank of the West and pick up several pounds in quarters to feed one of the 25,000 San Francisco parking meter spots. You can now purchase a San Francisco parking meter cards online through the SFMTA. These cards will work in 23,000 of the 25,000 spots (meters run by the Port of SF do not accept the cards).

Look at San Francisco…making it easier to pay them not to tow, ticket or boot your car. No one wants parking violations tickets.

Breaking it down:

Accessibility: 2 out of 3

On the page, you cannot find a link to this service under the “Residents” link in the top navigation bar; it is under “Online Services.” Other online services are available under the “Residents” link, so SFGov should link to the parking meter card service from that page, too. You can also link to this service from the SFMTA home page.

The service requires a fee, $2.50, for processing each purchase.

And, it’s in English only… Come on, SF.

Ease of Use: 1.5 out of 3

The process of purchasing the card is straightforward and relatively simple.

Funny, though, using the card is slightly more complicated: for certain parking meters, the card needs to be inserted face up; for others, the card needs to be face down. The city recommends you trouble shoot the failure of a meter to read your card by inserting your card in an adjacent meter until the other meter says, “Processing,” which just sounds like a poor troubleshooting mechanism. And if that meter is just not reading cards for some reason, you still have to pay in quarters, or you will be towed/booted/fined.

Design: 3 out of 3

The actual “Parking Meter Card” pages are visually consistent and clean.

The Guide: 3 out of 3

The instructions to purchase the card are clear and easy to follow.

User Feedback: 3 out of 3

At the base of each Parking Meter Card page, there is a link for Support Services. It takes you to a page that offers the following contact information: “For problems with online purchase of parking cards, contact the San Francisco 311 Customer Service Center.” If you follow the hyperlink, it takes you to a page with phone numbers and a web presence.

Actually buying that card…

Start at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency main page, and from there, select “Buy Parking Cards” found in the middle of the page under “Most Popular.” You arrive at a page entitled “Purchase SFMTA Parking Meter Cards.”

While the page to begin the purchasing process is clearly hosted by, given the universal navigation bar on that page, it is not immediately featured on under “Residents” (a link from the top navigation bar…and also where I thought it intuitively would be). If you click on “Residents” and then “Transportation,” you will not find a link for the parking meter cards. You have to go to “Online Services,” rather than “Residents,” and then scroll to “Payment Services” to select “MTA Parking Meter Cards.” I generally like corn mazes, just not when I am trying to deal with something like paying for a San Francisco parking meter card.

The SFMTA Parking Meter Cards page is pretty clear about the guidelines here:

  • This product can be purchased in $20 or $50 increments;
  • I can’t buy more than five or $200 worth at any given point;
  • I have to pay using a U.S. debit or credit card;
  • The U.S. Postal Service will deliver my meter card within seven business days;
  • I will have to pay an additional $2.50 for this online-in-your-pajamas-convenience;
  • They will not sell my personal information I give them (but if the system is hacked, all bets are off).

The process then involves giving them your information and payment method and them offering you confirmation of your purchase.

Slightly problematic: Unless you ask Google to translate this page, there is no method of translating this process for those who cannot read English.

And, don’t panic: The SFMTA website informs me the $20 cards are printed with an expiration date of December 31, 2007, but just ignore the constant typo; they don’t actually expire.