Throw out the Baby with the Bathwater


Throw out the Baby with the Bathwater

We did a cover story last year on Monkey Parking and its clones like Haystack. The article was written by a parking authority head how basically said that entire concept was bad and frankly, using the city’s assets for private gain.

Many major cities including Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Santa Monica have banned the concept, with the city attorney in San Francisco commenting,  after Monkey Parking stated that the fee was simply for information, not for the space, that the idea was like saying that a prostitute was charging for her advertising and not for the “product” she provided.

ICYMI, the idea behind these and similar apps is that a person parking on street in a city can, when they are about to leave, go on line and notify folks cruising in the area that they are leaving and the spot is now available.  The parker then waits for the cruiser to show up and the space is exchanged.  The parker gets a couple of bucks from the cruiser for his trouble, and the app takes a cut.

The major objections were that folks could go into business, and auction off spaces to the highest bidder, plus could make it a regular habit, moving from space to space, holding spaces for app users.  Fair Enough.

This morning in the Wall Street Journal, Christopher Mims has a column on the controversy, and held forth with some thoughts many of us had missed.

One of the concerns was that the apps were using public property for private gain, singling out individuals for charges that weren’t borne by the community as a whole. Mims noted that cities do this all the time with congestion pricing, They reduce availability of on street parking with higher pricing, and by renting spaces to car sharing companies like Zip Car.

Cities try virtually anything to make parking either more or less available and spend millions on apps, in street sensors, fancy on line meters, and the like to ‘help’ parkers find spaces, usually to no particular avail.  But when the private sector comes along and provides a service that attempts to do the same thing, at no charge to the city, all hell breaks loose.

The two major objections, the auction and individuals making this a full time business could easily be controlled by the software company providing the app. In fact in many cases, Haystack has already done this.

Mims quotes George Mason University researcher Christopher Koopman as follows

We should be allowing people to innovate and enter into transactions and then adjust to the margins as issues actually arise….

In the case of Haystack, Mims notes, regulators took a different approach — imagine the worst-case scenario and move to block it before there’s any evidence it will come to pass.

Rather than working with the app provider to adjust the system to fit the requirements of the local municipality, they simply banned it out of hand.  This approach crushed innovation and limits creativity.

In an attempt to ‘protect’ the city and its revenue, they threw the baby out with the bathwater.




Picture of John Van Horn

John Van Horn

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