The Quest for Easier Parking and The Anger at Monkey Parking

Yesterday the city of San Francisco ruled that made the pay-per-space Monkey Parking app illegal. What is Monkey Parking? It’s an app that allows someone who is parked in a free, curbside parking space to sell that space to anyone willing to buy it. Sell? They can even auction off the space.

San Francisco said in their ruling that you can’t sell something that belongs to the public. This is true. But before we toss Monkey Parking into the start-up deadpool, let’s look at the pain point.

Parking in San Francisco. Always colorful, never easy.

Parking in San Francisco. Always colorful, never easy.

Problem #1: Urban parking is hard. This isn’t news. There are areas in cities that are so hard to park in at certain times that drivers can spend an hour or more looking for a parking space. This results in more cars on city streets, more toxins in the air, and unnecessary road rage.

Problem #2: Parking isn’t fair. You can cruise around the neighborhood for a very long time only to see a space open up and the car in front of you, which you swear has been looking for a space for only 5 minutes, swoops in and takes it.

Problem #3: There aren’t any other options right now. Many residential or mixed-use neighborhoods don’t have enough space, free or paid, for everyone who needs one. It’s a game of musical chairs where the person left standing is still circling and trying to find a seat.

Finally, not really a problem, but as Monkey Parking demonstrated, parking is such a hassle that people are willing to throw money at this.

But what if instead of folding up the business, Monkey Parking were to go down a different path to try and solve the problem? Yes, the number of spaces will stay the same but maybe the solution can be community-driven instead of money-driven? Instead of paying for a space, drivers will cooperate and share the public spaces more efficiently. How? A bit like how the Waze app for traffic works:

  1. Map all the possible public parking spaces in the city. Mark all possible curbside spaces on a map, based on the current day and time. Mark legal spaces blue, illegal places black.
  2. Drivers will mark which spaces are taken, red, or are free, green.
  3. If a user is about to leave a space, they will mark that space orange, saying that they are leaving in 5 minutes. The orange will start blinking a minute before they leave.
  4. The driver who just parked in that space will mark it red.

Let’s cover the two basic objections:

  1. People will never do this. Yes, they will. They will crowd-source this information because it benefits everyone. Noam Bardin, the CEO of Waze once said that “Waze’s key advantage… will be its 44 million users and 70,000 volunteer map editors who form the backbone of its ability to constantly update and validate its maps.”
  2. Show me the money. Once Monkey Parking stops charging for its services, how it is going to make money? One way is hyper-local advertising. The app knows exactly when someone parked at a very specific spot. Once the driver marks the spot red the app can offer a local cup of coffee, the nearest flower shop, or the closest burrito (we are talking about San Francisco after all!)

What do you think, Monkey Parking? Worth a shot?


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