A lot of people focus on expired parking meters as the way in which you get a parking ticket.
That’s actually not true.
There are at least 8 different ways you can get a ticket for a parking violation:
1) Expired parking meter. This is actually not even the most common way – at least in San Francisco
2) Street sweeping. Most streets in San Francisco – basically any street without too high a slope – gets swept at least twice a month. Downtown streets actually can get swept as often as every day, plus holidays.
3) Residential zone time limit violation. San Francisco has a large number of residential parking zones; residents can get a parking sticker which allows them to ignore these time limit violations, but the sticker doesn’t confer immunity to any of the other violations listed here. These time limits are typically 1 or 2 hours, but can be as high as 4 hours.
4) Tow away. Many downtown streets have tow-away zones in the morning and evening rush hours. These zones are for opening up extra lanes for traffic, but can also exist for other reasons such as library-mobile parking or bike commuter buses.
5) Incline parking. San Francisco is a hilly city – and SF city law states that drivers must curb their wheels when parking on any street with a 3% grade or higher (State law sets this level at 2%). While in my experience this is only enforced in a relatively few blocks, in reality 40% of San Francisco actually is at or above the 3% grade.
6) Commercial meters. Many parking meters, especially in the downtown area, are yellow or red. These are only usable by licensed commercial vehicle; anyone else gets a ticket. Generally this means 7 am to 5 pm, Monday through Friday, but there are many exceptions such as the 7 am to 3 pm Commercial meters in Chinatown.
7) Handicapped. San Francisco has handicapped spots on some streets. Don’t park here unless you want a really big parking ticket. They usually have a blue painted curb and a sign, but the sign may be broken/obscured.
8 ) Police/Fire/City zones. These are white painted (police/city) or red painted (fire) curbs in which only vehicles with the appropriate parking pass displayed can park.
9) Special events. Due to events such as the Pride Parade, Saint Patrick’s day parade, etc etc – there are specific blocks downtown which are tow-away no parking zones in preparation for being setup areas for parades. This also applies to temporary permits for construction or moving.
This doesn’t include other ways such as expired registration (a $10 fix-it ticket), no front license plate (another $10 fix-it ticket), and so forth
As you can see, street parking in the city is a jungle.
You can avoid most of these by being alert – checking for signs not just near where you’ve parked, but along the block you’re on, but of course there is a lot to keep an eye on.
And as a note: The most common parking ticket received (as determined by city data) is the street sweeping violation.
In 2008, San Francisco issued 662,533 street sweeping tickets.
This compares with 531,297 parking meter violations.
There are only 400,000 vehicles registered in San Francisco with about 300,000 more coming in every day, so you can see just how often drivers get tickets.