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San Francisco Sees Potential End to Parking App Dispute

Due to heavy public opposition, the short-lived experiment with peer-to-peer parking to relieve congestion in the city appears to be over for now.

by / July 15, 2014
San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, depicted above with volunteer road workers in April 2011, has likely dealt the final blow to the city's new buy-and-sell parking apps, now forced to change business models. Ashley Thompson, Flickr/Dennis Herrera

San Francisco’s spate of back-and-forths between city officials and parking app developers may be at a close as companies have either shifted services or simply left town altogether.

City officials reaffirmed Monday the startups associated with the mobile apps, which allow users to sell and auction parking, had met its demands to halt services within the city. The developers' withdrawals are temporary, according to much of their correspondence to the city; however, the San Francisco Attorney’s Office is optimistic the hiatus will stick.

“I think it might be done, but we’ll see,” said Matt Dorsey, a spokesman for the office. “If this back and forth proved anything, it proved that there is no appetite to amend the law to make parking more competitive and more expensive.”

By June 11, all three startups who’d been asked to adjust business models had turned course. MonkeyParking has placed its services on temporary hold. ParkModo has moved its service offerings out of the city. And Sweetch -- the only startup that wasn’t served a cease and desist order due to early collaboration with officials -- stopped altogether while making its parking software free and open source to the public.

The controversy erupted when the startups created mobile phone apps that charged motorists a flat fee for information about open parking spaces in San Francisco, and offered cash rewards to motorists who used the app to notify other drivers when they left their parking place. Earlier this month, the city declared the peer-to-peer parking apps illegal.

During the 12 years Dorsey has served in his position, he said he’s never seen the level of united public opposition to a service. Even in controversial battles of marriage equality, wage theft and other pitched discourses Dorsey said the outcry against the apps was robustly one-sided.

“I think the prospect, in a legal market, of people squatting on parking spots was something that everybody got,” he said.

While the city does have one additional meeting with MonkeyParking’s founder Paolo Dobrowolny, it appears that at least for San Francisco, further discussion about peer-to-peer parking is unlikely.

However, this does not mean the discussion won’t take place elsewhere. Despite San Francisco’s firm stance on the issue, other cities are potentially open. Dorsey noted while San Francisco has a police code that prohibits private sale of parking spaces, other cities might not. One large metropolis had reached out to the attorney’s office to investigate whether it should prepare itself with similar regulatory adoptions, he said.

Asked how the apps fared beyond the bay, Dorsey said he couldn’t speculate.

“I’m hesitant to say, I don’t know how it would go over in other cities and I don’t know that other cities have a police code provision that we have.”

In a statement released on June 11, Herrera said he was grateful that the parking apps had at least temporarily honored his request to halt business practices “that clearly violate San Francisco's Police Code.”

Similarly, he added, city hall will be monitoring San Francisco-based apps that intend to leverage public property for consumerism.

“We're going to remain vigilant against those who would try to hold on-street public parking hostage for their own private profit. We intend to continue communicating with these businesses to make sure we're all on the same page about what local law requires,” Herrera said.

MonkeyParking was not immediately available for comment.

However, a complete breakdown of published correspondence between officials and the parking startups can be found by clicking below.

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Jason Shueh former staff writer

Jason Shueh is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.

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