When app developer Hamza Ouazzani Chahdi first arrived in San Francisco from Paris, Chahdi and a friend parked in a tow-away zone and got hit with a $580 fee for getting their car back – more than the vehicle was worth.
His first app aimed at preventing parking calamity was met with a stern warning from the city for monetizing public property. So he and his team pivoted, and now he’s trying to figure out how to stave off tickets for free.
Chahdi, a Mission resident who drives, uses his bike and public transit, discovered that some 500,000 people a year get a ticket in San Francisco. “They need a solution to that,” he said adding that a $78 parking ticket, can be rough for someone living paycheck to paycheck.
One of the earlier attempts to fix the parking problem was via collaboration on an app called Sweetch, which launched in mid 2014. Backlash ensued from neighbors who disliked the idea of charging for the use of public space.
Neither did the city of San Francisco followed suit with an official notice to the developers to stop charging fees for public spaces. Sweetch adapted, modified Sweetch and turned it into the free-to-use SpotAngels.
“You try, you fail, and you learn, and you try to improve,” said Chahdi. “At the end of the day the city and the app developers have the same goal which is solving the issue for people.”
The new app extracts information about parking spaces, time restrictions, and other rules around parking from photos. SpotAngels is free, and the developers intend to keep it that way. Instead of charging customers, they envision sustainability coming from sale of the data to corporate clients. No, not user data – information about parking spots. One car manufacturer, Chahdi said, has already signed on to buy the app’s information and incorporate it into its onboard navigation systems.
Right now, Chahdi said, his data about when a driver can park where, what it costs, and how long they can stay is more than 99 percent accurate. Better, he claims, than the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s own information. Partly because SpotAngels includes data pinpointing another parker’s peeve: The deceptive curb section that looks like a parking spot but is actually a driveway.