June 2014

Parking spaces

No rental of public car parks

SAN FRANCISCO — You can’t auction off access to a public parking space, City Attorney Dennis Herrera told three startups trying to do just that.

Herrera on Monday issued an immediate cease and desist request to MonkeyParking, an app that allows users to “earn money every time you’re about to leave your street parking spot,” according to the society.

Herrera also copied Apple on the letter, asking the Cupertino, Calif.-based company to immediately remove the mobile app from its App Store.

“Technology has given rise to many laudable innovations in the way we live and work – and Monkey Parking is not one of them,” Herrera said.

“It’s illegal, it exposes drivers to $300 fines, and it creates a predatory private market for public parking spaces that San Franciscans won’t tolerate,” he said.

In an email, MonkeyParking CEO Paolo Dobrowolny said: “As a general rule, we believe that a new company providing value to people should be regulated and not banned.”

“Regulation is fundamental to driving innovation, while prohibition only stops it,” he said.

San Francisco’s police code specifically prohibits individuals and businesses from buying, selling, or renting public street parking spaces.

The app is also dangerous because it allegedly encourages drivers to “engage in online bidding wars while driving,” Herrera said.

Parking in this famously tiny town, just seven by seven miles away, is a premium. There are over 470,000 registered vehicles but only 441,000 public parking spaces, and that doesn’t even take into account all the drivers who come to work every day.

Herrera said motorists face a $300 fine for each violation.

Two other startups aiming to auction parking through iPhone apps, Sweetch and ParkMondo, were also named in Herrera’s statement.

Sweetch charges users a $5 fee when they obtain a parking space from another Sweetch motorist. Users are supposed to post a notice on the site 5 minutes before getting in their car, then stay by their car until the Sweetch user “buying” the spot arrives.

ParkModo, which was due to launch this week, planned to hire drivers to fill public parking spaces in San Francisco’s trendy Mission District so they could be handed over to users.

Companies are potentially subject to civil penalties of $2,500 per transaction for unlawful business practices under California’s unfair competition law, Herrera said.

Herrera said San Franciscans are perfectly free to “rent their own private driveways and garage spaces if they choose.”

That leaves an open space for parking startups like CARMAnation, launched in February, which allows users in San Francisco to offer short-term parking space rentals in their driveways, garages and parking lots.

“Companies should be looking to help solve city life problems through technology, instead of taking advantage of public properties or city residents,” said co-founder Ashley Cummings.

Their app, CARMAnation, allows users to offer a parking spot they’re entitled to for short-term use, much like Airbnb does for extra rooms. “It’s a place people already have that they don’t use,” Cummings said.

Users can either donate their place, rent it out, or rent it out and have the money go to charity.

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