In San Francisco, a tech startup is rolling out what may be the ultimate idea for co-opting public resources for the private good: Helping individual citizens to charge for access to city-owned street parking spaces.
App users who are frustrated by the time wasted cruising for a spot in San Francisco can now open up MonkeyParking and offer money to a fellow user for their current space. Drivers who are willing to leave their street spot can make $5 to $20 by auctioning off access, the company’s site says.
The founders, based in Italy, rely on the same logic as other sharing economy companies, like Airbnb, that have created new markets but often skirt existing rules and norms to do it—a logic that has grated on city officials and San Francisco residents who are excluded by the city's tech boom. CEO Paolo Dobrowolny told the San Francisco Chronicle that his company is just a facilitator: "We’re just providing information when someone is leaving," he said. "That is valuable information for everybody."
Love or hate the idea, however, Monkey Parking has a good point.
Street parking is among our most incorrectly valued urban assets. All around, cities are working hard to encourage more public transit use and cut traffic congestion and air pollution, and then they go and undermine their cause by renting drivers valuable public street space for cheap (or for free). Researchers at Drexel University recently warned of the serious environmental and public health consequences caused by these "price distortions." In a large survey, they found that cities with more expensive parking also had higher public transit use.
But the reason for some of the angry reaction to Monkey Parking is that while parking may be too cheap, it’s not privileged, tech-savvy app users who should reap the benefits at the expense of the rest of San Francisco’s taxpayers. If parking is going to cost more, then cities need those funds to invest in improved public transportation systems that benefit everyone.
According to the Chronicle, the city attorney is looking into whether the app is legal. Hopefully, while they’re investigating, the city’s transportation officials might learn an idea or two from the company as well.