SFMTA to permanently replace residential parking stickers with virtual permits & license plate recognition technology

Residential parking restrictions. | Photo: Steven Bracco/Hoodline
By Steven Bracco - Published on March 25, 2021.

The long-held San Francisco tradition of affixing a residential parking permit sticker to one's car bumper is set to end by next year.

Earlier this month, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) announced that it will begin phasing out the residential parking permit stickers and replacing them with virtual permits.

SFMTA spokesperson Erica Kato tells Hoodline the agency "will be transitioning annual Residential Parking Permit (RPP) permits from physical stickers to virtual permits... This will streamline the RPP application and administration process."

While physical stickers previously indicated whether or not someone had a valid RPP permit, SFMTA will begin ramping up enforcement using License Plate Recognition (LPR) technology. According to the SFMTA, the agency plans to expand LPR technology to all RPP areas in the coming months. Kato did not respond to Hoodline's request for comment on the program's cost.

SFMTA Parking Control Officer. | Photo: SFMTA


Over the next 12 months, SFMTA will continue to issue physical permit sticks allowing enforcement officers to double-check vehicles during the LPR pilot period, and allow customers to get used to the new virtual permit system.

Starting March 1, 2022, physical RPP permits will no longer be issued. Other permit types including 1-Day, Visitor, Press, City Vehicle, Teacher, and Contractor will continue to receive physical permits.

According to current SFMTA data, approximately 70,000 San Francisco residents living in RPP areas purchase an annual parking permit sticker each year.

Anyone renewing their permit will still be able to pay online and receive their permit in the mail. People buying new permits can either do so in person at the Customer Service Center (11 South Van Ness Ave), by mail or online.

LPR technology allows SFMTA parking enforcement vehicles to read license plate numbers as they drive through neighborhoods, checking in real-time if vehicles have a permit. Vehicles without permits are flagged by the LPR system. Then a Parking Control Officer will verify that a vehicle has violated the parking rules before issuing a citation.

Letter from SFMTA announcing the changes. | Photo: Steven Bracco/Hoodline


According to the SFMTA, the LPR technology will streamline the permit purchasing process making it easier for customers to pay for and get their permits. Instead of having to wait for the permit to arrive in the mail, parking permits will be active as soon as they are paid for.

Customers will also no longer be required to visit the Customer Service Center and can purchase the permit online.

Much like the end of paper Muni transfers in 2015, the end of physical stickers removes a longtime tradition for many San Francisco residents. The number of stickers on someone's bumper was often a sign of how long someone had lived in the city.

With the switch to virtual permits, SFMTA hopes to thwart would-be criminals from stealing the stickers from cars. LPR technology will also allow for faster enforcement, making it easier for Parking Control Officers to issue citations.

Car with multiple Area G parking permits. | Photo: SFCitizen


One change permit holders will notice on their new stickers is that their license plate number has been removed. For anyone who has multiple annual permits, you can place any of those permits on any vehicle registered to your address.

To address privacy concerns, SFMTA says it has policies regarding the use of LPR technology for parking enforcement and is in full compliance with state and with pending local legislation on the use of surveillance technology.

All images obtained through the LPR system, with the exception of those associated with a violation, will be automatically purged after seven days. Images associated with a violation will be purged after a year.

Only SFMTA employees and authorized vendor support staff will have access to the images for the purpose of citation processing, payment, and review.

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