Since the heady days of 2013, when Uber and Airbnb started blossoming (or spreading like weeds) around the globe and raising millions of dollars in funding, ambitious app designers have been looking for problems that could be solved by combining smartphones and financial incentives.
One problem that nearly every urban-dweller experiences is parking. As populations grow and urban areas increase in density, skyrocketing property values have made parking an inefficient use of space. So, as more and more people crowd our cities, there are fewer and fewer places to park (research in San Fran showed 30 percent of all traffic in the city was cruising for a park). But parking has been one of the 'Uber of X' business models that has been the hardest to get right. The first attempts at ‘solving’ parking were the so-called ‘predatory parking’ apps, which enabled a driver who was leaving a park to ‘sell’ the space they were about to vacate to a driver looking for a park (Planet Money tried a parking experiment along these lines and no-one was seeing the value).
One of the most notorious of these apps, MonkeyParking, was taken up quickly in San Francisco, where parking is terrible and the law of the land seems to be: if it exists, there’s an app to monetise it. Soon enough, people passing parks occupied by drivers waiting for the auction winner to show up began to revolt, taking their rage to City Hall, which banned trading in public parking across the city. MonkeyParking then attempted to move to Santa Monica, where it was quickly shut down, the city's parking administrator comparing the app to “a street bum [who] stands on a space, waves someone in and asks for a tip." In Baltimore, a similar app called Haystack also ran into trouble.
Separating the ‘predator’ from parking, Parkable is a new app helping Auckland drivers find a park without relying on the scarce public parking infrastructure. Instead, users with spare parking space—whether it’s their driveway, lawn, or garage—can use the app to rent that space to users looking for somewhere to park (the promo video was made by Jose Barbosa and features The Spinoff's Duncan Greive in a starring role).
The host user sets an hourly rate (parks are currently available for anywhere between $1 and $20 per hour), the parker finds the host’s park through the app and either books it (up to 30 minutes in advance) or confirms on arrival. Once the driver leaves, they confirm through the app, and the parker’s credit card is charged. Parkable takes 20 percent (more for additional services such as fully managed parks) and pays out the host on a monthly basis. Easy.
Warwick Beauchamp, Parkable’s executive director, came up with the idea two years ago when he received $160 of parking fines in a single dinner date in Kingsland. After a few months of inaction due an illness, he teamed up with Toby Littin, also executive director, and Brody Nelson, technical director, to make what they call a “community parking solution,” instead of relying on scarce public parking and the uncertainty of whether there’ll be a park anywhere near where you’re going.
“Users love the idea of getting parks close to where they want to go,” says Littin, “and being able to find parks before they depart.”
Parkable is focusing on three areas: event parking, where well-positioned users can charge a premium for parking near a major event (say, Kingsland residents during an All Blacks game at Eden Park); regular casual parking, where, for example, someone who drives to work every day might make their driveway available during office hours; and shopper parking, where small retail stores use the app to not only monetise their park, but help monitor use of the park, potentially identifying which parkers are actual customers of the store.
Littin is quick to point out that the app cannot be used to monetise public or illegal parking. “We only target private space,” he says. “People can’t sublet public parks, so we don’t allow them to be listed. We avoid that like the plague.”
Parkable is preparing to launch in Sydney before concurrently spreading across New Zealand and Australia. They may call it “community parking”, but they have a pretty big community in mind, aiming to get the app in 200 cities across 35 countries.
But while they’re setting their sights on world domination, they still need more parks. So if you live in Auckland and have room in your driveway or your lawn (through not the berm - that belongs to the council, remember), you could make a little pocket money barely lifting a finger. And if that all seems a bit much for a few dollars here and there, Parkable has a solution on the cards. Later this week it’ll announce a major partnership deal with a charity that will allow users to donate their fee to charity.