Parkageddon

Over the past few years, various startups have attacked the “transportation” space by offering different modes of transport — private black cars, fist bumps with mustaches, sidecars with community donations, car rentals at home, car sharing near work, personal drivers for the day, private buses to replace popular public bus lines, and more.

All of this activity drives home the point that transportation’s value to us is directly related to our own needs of sustaining income and relationships. And, it helps that public transit infrastructure lags woefully beyond what the public requires today: We don’t want to pay for new infrastructure, but we wanted to be driven to tonight’s event yesterday.

So, if entrepreneurs have figured out how to get a good deal of us from Point A to Point B without our own personal vehicles, and what happens to those folks who still drive their own cars into the parking abyss that is San Francisco? Have you seen parking rates on the nights of Giants games in SOMA creep up yearly? Is the city adding more office and residential space but fewer garage slots?

These questions are, of course, rhetorical, and the only answer I have for you is: Get ready for what I like to call #Parkageddon! That’s right. This Fall 2014, in San Francisco, you will see a level of car congestion that will beat last year’s levels. More and more startups (and investors) are now permanently in the city. The Giants are doing well, and the A’s even better. People who have been forced out of San Francisco as residents yet hold jobs in the city are likely to commute in by either car or rail.

#Parkageddon. Just watch, you will see people traveling into the city spend 33% of their commute time cruising to the city perimeter, 33% of the total trip time getting through the bottlenecks to permeate the perimeter, and then 33% of their commute time securing parking. And, those people will frustrated or even angry. They will tweet their rage. They will experience #Parkageddon.

[When I started writing this, I thought I’d list out some of the startups I’ve heard of like Caarbon, Vatler, Curbstand, Flightcar, SpotHero, ValetAnywhere, Zirx, Luxe, MonkeyParking, and others. But, then I was curious — “How Many Are There?” Well, according to AngelList, there are 83 parking startups. Eighty Three. So, no…I won’t detail them here. As a disclosure, I am a consultant to Bullpen Capital which recently invested in SpotHero.]

It’s a natural reaction to snicker, but when I sit back and think about it, parking is a real, nationwide, mass consumer problem, or at least an annoyance. And, we have already seen scores of businesses launched that tap into labor markets and match demand (here, to park my car) with supply (here, to pay people to valet). All sorts of risks abound with this space, and we can also expect to see some unsavory stories hit the press. Some of the solutions are based around networks of individuals workers (mobile-empowered valets) while some try to give you access to parking garage inventory; some startups tried to let people trade public parking spots (which was met with City Hall fury), while others try to provide crowdsourced intelligence about where someone should park, like Waze but for parking.

Just as we’ve seen with transportation, and with food delivery, and with home cleaning, there’s no good reason to not think parking can be on that list. Will we let drivers take our cars? We already do at hotels, or at restaurants. We let people sleep in our extra rooms or squat in our subletted apartments. The common risks associated with handing over your car keys to a stranger can be managed with networks like Facebook, GPS tracking and motion sensing from a valet’s phone, background checks powered by companies like Checkr, and so forth. It sounds kind of crazy and even twisted, but parking eats up a lot of peoples’ time, and those who have money are willing to spend it for more time. Put that in the meter.

** Post-script: I’ve been thinking about parking much more now. Too much. Today in the car, something dawned on me — if this takes off in SF, the city (and other vested interests) are going to fight this big time. Now, you might say “Well, they fought the cabs and looked what happened?” But, that isn’t the right analog. If this P2P distributed parking thing works, it will likely (1) reduce parking violations and therefore one of the city’s biggest revenue machines and (2) potentially take money away from garages which prey on people who only realize too late that they’re paying $6 per every 15 minutes (and are run by “vested” interests). The city and the garages can be more effective at squeezing these startups because the companies have to rest the cars somewhere when they’re not in use. This isn’t (yet) carsharing. While Uber and other transport networks cut out the middleman, there aren’t middlemen in parking. If they succeed, the startups will become the middlemen.

Haystack is written by Semil Shah, and is published under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license. Copyright © 2018 Semil Shah.

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