Tech Puts a Price on Street Parking

Founders Aboud Jardaneh and Thomas Cottin. Sweetch and other apps, the city's attorney's office  contends, is not so sweet.

Founders Aboud Jardaneh and Thomas Cottin. Sweetch and other apps, the city's attorney's office contends, is not so sweet.

It’s said that the best things in life are free, or nearly so—love, music (thanks, Spotify!), the stars. And street parking?

That’s currently up for debate, thanks to new apps including one by two young entrepreneurs who are seeking to monetize San Francisco’s street parking with a month-old app, Sweetch. It allows users to earn $5 by texting other users about the hard-won parking space they’re about to vacate. The driver who takes the space, pays $5. Whether Sweetch – and other parking apps such as MonkeyParking - can steer drivers in their direction, however, is an open question.

Sweetch (a reference to that sweet spot of switching out) is the brainchild of Thomas Cottin, age 24, and Aboud Jardaneh, age 29. Before they launched their app, they say they scrupulously researched the demand for street parking, looked into city data on parking lots and meters, and stood on the street for four to five hours a day to get a grasp of parking in San Francisco.

Were drivers willing to alert others for free that their spot would soon be available? No. Would they do so for a fee? Maybe. For most of the drivers surveyed, $5 seemed to be the tipping point—the sweet spot of someone’s willingness to text on an app that their spot would soon be vacant.

But not even six months of research prepared Sweetch’s founders for their collision with one of the city’s most emotional issues. When Cottin recently asked his fellow neighbors on the Nextdoor forum whether they would be willing to test Sweetch, his neighbors responded quickly.

Cottin and Jardaneh were selling public space, privatizing public parking, even—heaven forbid—encouraging drivers to monitor their phones while driving! They are not the only ones under attack. Elsewhere, MonkeyParking has taken heat, according to Wired.  And, so-called sharing apps helped to inspire a whole info-riff on Medium by Susie Cagle called, The Case Against Sharing. 

Nevertheless, Cottin and Jardaneh are trying to understand what went wrong. “They think we are making the situation worse and we are improving it,” Jardaneh said in an interview on Saturday. “We’re looking for solutions. If there is another solution we are happy to work on it.”

They had just returned from doing more street surveys and got quite a different reaction from Nextdoor’s, they said. People told them that they are willing to use the app and like the idea that users can easily donate the money to charity.

Sweetch discourages drivers from keeping the $5 because, if they do so, they pay a 20 percent transaction fee. But as with other apps that use money to elicit parking cooperation, there appears to be concern that some users will simply make money off free parking.

Cottin and Jardaneh say they will easily be able to see when drivers are abusing the system and can block them.

When they tried to explain this on Nextdoor, what ensued was a lively discussion that in large part urged them to reconsider their app.

“You know people will find a way to capitalize on this, to abuse this,” wrote one participant. While she understood the madness of finding parking and would sometimes even be willing to pay, she added, the system was fraught with problems. “I think you need to reevaluate what kind of resource your app was trying to provide, whether it is actually resourceful.”

Another, stating flatly that Sweetch was a “terrible idea,” wondered what would happen if she was driving around and tried to pull into a spot already promised to a Sweetch driver. “Do I need to fight for my right to park?” she asked.

Another pointed out that $5 a day is pocket change for “some of us, but it is grocery money for a large number of families in the Mission.”

The Sweetch team on the street doing research and finding users.

The Sweetch team on the street doing research and finding users.

The solution to such outbursts?

Education, said the entrepreneurs. The blowback, they suggested, was generational. Once drivers understand how the app will work, saving time and improving air quality, they’ll come to appreciate Sweetch.

“We’re in a world where information has value and people will pay for it,” Jardaneh asserted on the forum. “This is not about public assets—you’ll still pay the meter or your sticker. Folks, this is happening and the world is changing whether you like it or not!”

Note: Commenters used in this piece were contacted on Next Door and gave permission to use their remarks.

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29 Comments

  1. godzuki

    Making money off something like this isn’t “sharing”.

    A capitalist in a stupid outfit is still a capitalist.

    Are the CEOs donating their personal money to charity?

    • Daniel

      These guys are just like Monkey Parking! there is an actual sharing economy company in the city thats working with charities and helping the community without being greedy little pigs. That other company I was talking about thats pretty good and growing quickly is called Carmanation, its at http://www.carmanation.com

      With them you can offer parking for free, for money or for charity. There is a fun video (reminds me of the old Virgin America video) the video is on their homepage also http://vimeo.com/75123471

  2. marcos

    Humanity will not be truly free until the last iota of value is squeezed from the last square centimeter of earth.

  3. Kate Holum

    Apps are no good in and of themselves . This particular one could aggravate the tension from social inequality we experience daily on the streets of SF. This app would give an advantage to people who are comfortable with apps and own fast devices. And it creates a market for information about public space– as if you paid extra to find out a library book was on the shelf. Shouldn’t parking spot info be free for everyone regardless of internet access or knowledge? We do this already with Nextbus billboards.

  4. Mark Rabine Staff

    Do some more research guys. And it doesn’t have to be data driven. Parking is the third rail of SF communal life. I once had a neighbor who began shooting people who parked too close to his driveway. A friend once said “the most valuable space is a parking space.” He wasn’t just talking commercial value.

  5. missionresident

    I’m all for techies making money on their fancy new apps, but this one makes me sick to my stomach a little as someone who drives.

    Here’s the main issue which will cause fist fights and road rage. Someone is in the drivers seat that looks like they are about to leave. They are waiting for the person they just notified to show up, but another car sees someone in the drivers seat and stops to wait for that parking spot. Then the driver who is selling his spot has a choice. 1. Be a complete asshole and waive the guy by and pretend you aren’t leaving or 2. explain that he sold the space to someone else and that person should look elsewhere for a spot. I guarantee someone gets the shit kicked out of them from some pissed off driver after a bad day of work when they’ve been looking for parking for 20 minutes after a long commute home.

  6. 24-24

    Imagine getting to a spot and the person wont pull out of it until they have someone paying to take their spot.. how annoying. you were there first but someone with an app gets it instead.. I would double park and block everyone involved just for sport.

    • John

      But how would you know they had sold that space?

      They might just be sitting in their car for a variety of other reasons, or no reason at all.

      This kind of thing happens already and, if the driver in the space isn’t intending to leave, he just waves the other guy on.

  7. Mister Big

    The “sharing” economy really just makes money by getting around taxes and regulations designed to protect people. Uber, AirBnB, all of these will be Napstered out of existence.

    These techies are basically saying that if you own a smartphone with a fast data plan and can afford to pay a premium for public space, you get ahead of the rest of us dweebs — the busboy who works on Valencia looking for a spot, the contractor working on the apartment building, the single mom looking for a parking spot so she can run her groceries up to her apartment.

    No, just no. Put down your devices and go home, techies.

  8. Russo

    Yep, millennials out to save the world. Zzzzzz….

  9. BigV

    The real solution here is to end the absurd giveaway of free parking. Parking should be market priced from the start — if you want to park, you pay for it. Why does the city just give away millions of acres of the most valuable public property in the country to storing cars? There are *much* better uses for that space — trees, sidewalks, bike lanes, etc. The assumption that just because you have a car means you have the right to park it for free is the height of arrogance.

    • Jaybird

      The City, ever since they realized the money not made by thecLarryvEllison debacle, has been giving out tickets like crazy. On top of that, most of the tickets are wrongly, Illegally issued tivckets! Pay for parking? Doesn’t paying the ever increasing price forcArea stickers count? What about the ridiculous ‘variable’ pricing bullsh…! $5.00/hour at 22nd and Mission is just WRONG! Also WRONG and Illegal, is to get a ticket, not just any ticket, a ‘drive away’ ticket where you never got thecticket and the notice just so happens to be mailed on the 20th day. That also meabs you have onw day only to protest.

  10. Rich

    In SOMA, there are homeless who flag you down at available parking spaces for less than $5. If this was a sharing app, there would be no cost to the users for utilizing the app.

  11. Orrdu

    One may be occupying a parking spot but that’s different than the parking space actually being in the “possession” of an individual. It is most definitely not.
    On-street parking is regulated and controlled by the city. This app feels like just another opportunity for the city to step forward and explain the rules and regs that govern on-street parking.

  12. Mission Mama

    Most of the newcomers (and there are many!) that have recently moved to my block are shocked when they discover that we still have actual gangs, shootings, hookers, addicts and a fair number of folks recently let out of the psych ward at SFGH running loose in the Mission. I suspect the real reason this app is so appealing is because these newbies are terrified of having to
    to park several blocks away from their destination and risk any unscripted encounters with the “local color”.

    • Orddu

      Maria, yes. Completely agree. The flinching and twitching of the newcomers who are attracted to the “vibrant culture” and yet oddly repulsed & frightened of it is tragi-comic.

    • godzuki

      LOL.

      Totally. I had to explain “litter” and “graffitti” to our new(ish) neighbors….so funny. Like…don’t you research an area before you move there???

      …and this dude isn’t even young…

    • Blurpy

      As if *anyone* would ever want to run into that kind of riff-raff you describe.

      I’ve lived in the Mission for years, and actual gangs, hookers, addicts, shootings, and anyone recently set free from the psych ward at SFGH are elements I actively try to avoid. You can’t tell me with a straight face that things like that are actually celebrated here, and newcomers are somehow wrong for reacting the way you assume they do.

  13. sebra leaves

    Hopefully the young techies who are moving in on us will figure out some other ways to make a living in SF soon if they want to stay here. There is a limit as to how many people can make a living off the parking apps business.

  14. ThatGuy

    Nice headline guys. Here’s one about Mission Local: “Tech enablers grade 3 writers to make money off sensationalist headlines with crappy banners”

  15. Andew

    Wow, talk about sleazy! Monetizing the public common is NOT sharing. This app is about as moral as some street person standing in a vacant parking spot unit someone gives him a few bucks to move aside. This is wrong. I hope the City takes legal action to shut down this app.

  16. Rob Fyfe

    I hate this idea and the tech kids who think them up… It’s totally abnoxious

  17. backtotheburbs

    “Folks, this is happening and the world is changing whether you like it or not!”

    Meaning …

    We want to become tech billionaires, and we are going to achieve this goal by a) privatizing public assets, b) making people compete for those public assets, and c) uprooting any existing rules and regulations. c) is brought to you by and made possible by the local SF government as its apparently become a key tactic to attract and retain tech ‘innovation’ by not enforcing existing laws and taking years to come up with even just proposals for changes going forward. Tax breaks pale in comparison … no other city seems to have this laissez fair attitude towards disruptive industry. Probably because they actually care about the general populace aka the taxpayers and voters.

    I’m surprised these parking app kids don’t just state that they are “removing the sickening interaction with a homeless person waving you into an empty parking space”. And also ‘we have figured out a way to pack more cars in to SF”!

  18. economist

    The allocation process for free street parking is first come, first served. Good luck sitting in your car waiting for the person you “sold” a space you don’t own for $5 while others circle around looking for a space. Eventually and quickly, people will become hip to this scam. Is the $5 you skim from the commons worth the inevitable black eye, broken tooth or worse?

    Money for nothing. That’s most of what these new apps like this parking app offer, indicating that the boom is nearing its end, long before these t-shirt wearing clowns make their fortunes from something of almost no social utility. At least the homeless parking wavers are working for their money.

  19. John

    I’m not seeing a problem here at all. I am always free to sit in my car and not move if I want to. Maybe I have just parked myself but am not yet ready to leave my car. Maybe I am waiting for someone on an errand. Maybe I am just having a smoke, or listening to a radio show, or about to am waiting for a phone call, or whatever.

    Sometimes I am waiting in my car and another vehicle pulls up thinking I am leaving. If i am not leaving, I just wave him on, and he moves on. no mileage in not believing me.

    Likewise I sometimes I see a driver who I think is about to leave, but he waves me on. No problem. I do not ask or care why that is.

    It’s only “first come; first served” is the space is currently vacant. But if I currently occupy that space, then it is my decision who gets the space. Whether that is for $5 or just because I don’t like your attitude or the type of car you are driving is not something you can know nor should care about.

  20. Mister Big

    yeah, but these app users will wait until the person paying $5 rolls up and flashes their headlights to leave. You normal civilians won’t have a chance.

  21. Mom

    I am sorry but if I get to a spot and I see you get into your car I will wait behind it until you leave that is my perogative right? If somebody comes up behind me and says they are waiting for the guys spot bc he paid for it on an app that is ridiculous . Straight up fighting words about to happen. And I’m a nice lady too. How dare you think you can try to pull this kind of app off in the mission with the current climate of what’s going on. Dummies gonna get themselves shot. Not by me of course, but I am worried about people who come from outside of sf and get in serious altercations with pissed off people.

  22. marcos

    San Francisco government is little more than an opportunity site for arrivistes and out-of-towners for their fly-by-night get-rich-quick schemes.

    Be they the tech titans, nonprofiteers or city workers, the vast bulk of San Francisco’s economic and political activity is not dissimilar to that of the metropole extracting value from the provincial colonies.

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