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SAN FRANCISCO — Parking in the City by the Bay has always been an expensive challenge, but the BART strike is making many drivers dig deeper into their wallets to find a spot.

Some drivers are reporting private garages are jacking up their rates to take advantage of the demand this week as the transit system shutdown entered its second day Tuesday.

"What do you want from me? It's money," snapped an attendant at a Howard Street lot who was asked why the fee to park there all day went up from $25 on Monday to $30 on Tuesday.

The city does not regulate the prices charged by private garages, but drivers who overstay their welcome at one of the city's coveted parking meters also will be stuck paying more. By complete coincidence, the city just added $2 Monday to what's now the highest-in-the-country fine -- $74 -- for expired parking meters downtown.

Thinking twice about driving to San Francisco now?

Around downtown Tuesday morning, parking prices at privately-owned facilities varied greatly. A garage on Brannan Street was offering $10 spots for the day while a Mission Street garage a few blocks away was charging $40. The rate at a lot on the Embarcadero was $6.50 an hour with a daily maximum charge of $50.

Despite the BART strike, the volume of cars in downtown was "fairly light" Tuesday morning, said Paul Rose, a spokesman for the Municipal Transportation Authority, which flooded streets leading from the Bay Bridge with workers in orange vests tweeting whistles to direct traffic.


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Even Monday, when bridge traffic into the city surged, Rose said MTA-owned parking facilities peaked at about 80 percent of capacity. People unfamiliar with the city's parking meters, which take credit cards, may have caught a break if they ran out of time this week.

"Most of our parking patrol officers are being deployed to keep traffic moving," Rose said. There was no increase in the number of parking tickets issued, he added.

But don't get too comfortable.

Tuesday, some private parking facilities were charging more.

"It's supply and demand," reasoned Debbie Levitt, as she paid $30 to park at a lot near Second Street. "This guy usually charges $15 to $20." It was back to $25 in the afternoon.

Levitt said she'd tried to find parking at the Caltrain station in South San Francisco, where she lives, but there was nary an open space. So she drove in.

"I'm a BART rider," she said. "I hope they settle (the strike) so everyone there is happy." A round-trip ticket from South San Francisco to the nearby Montgomery Street station is $7.60.

But the $30 she forked over to park on Tuesday could have been worse. Inside the attendant's booth was a sign that read "$60 Flat Rate. All Day."

"That's a New Year's Eve price," Levitt said.

A worker at the lot said the daily fee had gone up $5 overnight. He declined to give his name or comment further.

From his sidewalk flower shop at Mission and Spear streets, Gary Thorn sees the bustling South of Market neighborhood every day. "They're jacking (prices)," he said of nearby parking lots. "They are sticking it to people. But people are coming in four to car."

At a garage near Mission and Main streets the rate was $40 to park all day, with the $40 portion of sign at the edge of the sidewalk taped over a $25 sign that was still underneath it.

"It's not good," said a man who walked out of the garage into the J.P. Morgan Chase building nearby.

An attendant at the garage declined to discuss its fees and referred questions to a company office where a phone message was not returned. Despite the price, the garage was filled before 10 a.m., with the attendant placing orange cones to block the entrance ramp which was filled with cars.

Contact Thomas Peele at tpeele@bayareanewsgroup.com and follow him at Twitter.com/Thomas_Peele.