Parking Apps Under Fire in San Francisco

A parking lot on 17th and Folsom Streets. Photo by Alan Sanchez.

A parking lot on 17th and Folsom Streets. Photo by Alan Sanchez.

MonkeyParking, a parking app that allows users to auction off their public parking spots to the highest bidder, temporarily suspended their operations today in response to a cease and desist letter from San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera sent on June 23. According to Herrera’s letter: 

“Technology has given rise to many laudable innovations in how we live and work — and MonkeyParking is not one of them. It’s illegal, it puts drivers on the hook for $300 fines, and it creates a predatory private market for public parking spaces that San Franciscans will not tolerate. Worst of all, it encourages drivers to use their mobile devices unsafely — to engage in online bidding wars while driving.”

The company would have been forced to pay fines of up to $2,500 per violation under California’s Unfair Competition Law if MonkeyParking did not disable their app and the city pursued further legal action. According to a recent blog post from MonkeyParking:

the bidding service on MonkeyParking has been temporary disabled in the San Francisco area. In light of the cease and desist letter that we received from the City of San Francisco, we are currently reviewing our service to clarify our value proposition and avoid any future misunderstandings.

Street parking is currently not a first-come-first-served process, but still a random-served one: you can go in circles for hours while a lucky driver can find a spot in a minute, right in front of you. It is an old and painful problem and we believe that drivers deserve a better solution.

Our mission is to get rid of circling the block turning a random parking process into a predictable one, saving people time while also reducing traffic congestion and generated pollution. We want to achieve our mission within the intent and letter of the law and in full cooperation with the local authorities.

Two other parking-related apps, Sweetch and CARManation are distancing themselves away from the MonkeyParking issue. In a June 25 post, Sweetch said that the company does not “believe in this [MonkeyParking] business model because we think it incentivizes drivers to hoard parking spots and reward wealthier users with access to better parking.” 

There are no auctions in Sweetch – users pay a flat rate of $5 for information about a spot and get paid $4 for notifying another driver when they leave their spot.  Users are matched automatically and do not compete for spots.  Furthermore, users have no incentive to hold spots because they can’t “cash out”. Sweetch users can only use the money to pay for information on new parking spots or donate it to charity.  And if they do so, Sweetch gives back the $1 fee to the charity. In short, Sweetch is designed to make San Francisco a better driving community, and not to reward people for claiming parking spots.  Our data is showing us that Sweetch is working.  People are not holding spots and our users are getting spots faster.  This is a win for residents frustrated with the lack of parking and also for the environment.  Given our unique business model, we were very surprised to have the City Attorney suggest that we were similar to MonkeyParking. 

Sweetch was specifically mentioned in the City Attorney’s initial letter as being in violation of the city’s code. However, CARMAnation, an app in which motorists sell or donate their private parking spaces, stressed that the ban does not affect the company.

“CARMAnation was not mentioned by the city because we are not affected by this ban,” said Ashley Cummings, co-founder of CARManation, in an email to MissionLocal. “We only allow people to rent out their PRIVATE parking spaces—not city property/land.” 

“Companies should look to help solve urban living issues through technology, instead of taking advantage of public property or city residents,” Cummings added. “At CARMANation, we support finding new ways to solve parking pains in cites, but not by trying to turn a profit on public land. Instead, we look to the private sector and allow people to share their parking spaces. This type of solution increases the amount of spots while at the same time making parking more affordable.”

Filed under: Mobile, Today's Mission

4 Comments

  1. Sam

    MonkeyParking is Italain owned and domiciled so it is not clear how the city could ever have levied any fines on the, At least not without winning a court case in Italy.

    So they are being very charitable here, in my opinion, and it is not clear to me that the city has any jurisdiction over whether a foreign business publishes information about parking spaces in the city.

    • Kate

      Oh, John, stop it…. You’re too much.

    • Scott

      Interesting speculation, anonymous internet commenter. I can do it, too: They’re conducting commerce in the US so they presumably have US banking arrangements to manage transactions. That means they’ll have financial assets that can be frozen by US courts.

      • Sam

        Scott, with banking it’s a very different situation. Most major foreign banks have a physical US presence and need permission from the Fed ti trade US dollar products. So attempts to fine them have worked, not least because the full weight of the federal government is behind that.

        But here we are talking about an Italian website with no US presence and US assets. SF can “fine” them but if they don’t pay, there’s not much we can do, except go to an Italian court.

        And Italian courts aren’t too happy with the US given that we are currently harboring a fugitive from Italian justice who has been found guilty of murder there.

        Anyone can fine anyone, but collecting is a whole other ballgame.

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