With the BART transit system on strike, traffic is backed up for blocks on Battery Street leading to an artery of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge during the evening commute Fri., Oct. 18, 2013, in San Francisco.
You've circled the block six times. Fifteen minutes have passed. Would you pay to secure someone else's parking spot? A startup called MonkeyParking thinks San Francisco residents will — and it's created an app to prove it.
MonkeyParking is simple to operate: It connects to your Facebook account to create a profile; you then enter the location of where you're parked, or where you want to park. If you’re looking for parking and see a user — known as a "Monkey" — leaving his or her spot, you can start bidding for it, starting at $5. MonkeyParking said the average bid ranges from $5 to $10. Currently, the app is only available in two cities: It launched in San Francisco last month, and in Rome, Italy, on May 11.
However, MonkeyParking has caused a backlash among San Francisco residents who believe it will inflate parking costs by encouraging parking squatters (those who will save their parking spots only for MonkeyParking users) and users who will only accept the highest bid. This has caused controversy in a city already fragmented by debate over rapid gentrification and tech-company shuttle buses. But these accusations have come as a shock to the man behind the parking app.
"They are talking about MonkeyParking like it’s been here forever and we just launched a month ago," Paolo Dobrowolny, CEO and co-founder of MonkeyParking told toMashable. “These [issues] are not happening now, and it’s never going to happen because it’s something we can control.”
Some residents believe parking squatters will only leave their spot if a bid comes in, rather than give the spot to a non-MonkeyParking user for free. Others believe users will only accept outrageously high bids for a parking spot, leaving those who don't have spare cash hanging.
Dobrowolny said the app already has preventative measures in place to stop the latter from happening. When you place a bid, the driver in the parking spot only sees that someone has placed a bid — no price is given. The company also told Mashable that it can track anyone abusing the service, and remove them from the app.
“We don’t want to create an infinite price for a parking spot, “ Dobrowolny said. “If it’s an unfair app, it wouldn’t help anyone — including us. We just want the app to be a tool that helps people, and nothing more than that.”
As for the app’s legality, the San Francisco City Attorney's office told SFGate that it is currently determining whether an app like MonkeyParking is legal. Dobrowolny toldMashable that he views the app as trading information about parking, rather than the spots themselves.
And parking spots really matter to San Francisco residents. A recent San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency parking census reported that the city has 440,000 parking spots available, but only 275,000 of those are street parking, according to Oakland, Calif.-based television station KTVU.
This is why some see MonkeyParking as an app that will only add to San Francisco's parking problem, since the money spent bidding on spots goes back into a user’s pocket, rather than to the SF MTA. Uptown Almanac, a local San Francisco culture blog, said money made from street parking helps pay for important infrastructural needs. This includes funding the San Francisco Police Department for security purposes, such as monitoring fare evasion on MUNI, a local public-transportation system.
However, Dobrowolny is willing to use its app to help the cities in which it is available, and believes they share a common goal of improving urban life. He said he views the money spent on bidding as an equal exchange: A user leaves a spot and earns $5, but will then likely spend that $5 again on a parking meter.
All this fuss may not even matter, however, as some drivers in San Francisco are not convinced they’ll use the app that often.
“I don’t really see it becoming part of somebody’s everyday routine,” Cory Abbe, a San Francisco resident and driver told Mashable. “I see it something like Uber, where only if someone is in a rush to get somewhere would actually use the app.”
Dobrowolny believes MonkeyParking will only help expedite the parking process, and won't become an alternate source of income for users. “This is not like Uber or Lyft, where it can help pay for bills," he said. "At most, it can just repay your parking-meter expenses.”
Currently, MonkeyParking is only available on iOS. The company plans to continue to expanding to other cities and operating systems.
“We believe this app can work if there is a community that uses it fairly both ways,” Dobrowolny said. “We can prove it — just give us time.”