SF city attorney demands shutdown of parking-space-auctioning app


Isn’t there also an app with fixed, low-cost pricing, like $3, as an in-app purchase, that returns all but a small portion of that back to you when you release your spot to another user? Like airport carts that used to be $1.00 and you’d get $.75 back when you returned the carts?
This seems like a very democratic way to handle the situation, and the app produce gets a quarter every time it’s used. Great for people looking for parking, and wonderful for the creator to put forth the effort!

In what possible way is the app you describe a good thing?

In the non-app scenario, a person finds a space, parks in it for however long, then leaves and somebody else can use it.

In the app scenario, the person with the space now has a perverse incentive to hold it for longer (not necessarily much longer; but they don’t get paid if they don’t wait until another user of the app shows up to take the space, so likely effect is nonzero) and the app producer is extracting 25 cents in rent for producing a less efficient allocation of a resource owned by the people of the city.

Clever, sure; but a total dick move.

At least it’s better than this ‘auction’ flavor, since the payoff is fixed and relatively low(thus ensuring that actively hunting and holding-hostage parking spaces is unlikely to be worth the time), while the auction arrangement could well end up reaching amounts where it becomes economic to ‘squat’ spaces purely for sale(and, indeed, the company hired some people to do exactly that for promotional purposes), in addition to encouraging app-users to delay leaving by effectively paying them to stall until another app-user shows up.

If one takes a positive view of demand-based pricing for goods like parking spaces, the price should be very much higher than it is; but the benefit(of better space availability) only results because the price is unrelated to the presence or absence of someone waiting in the space. There is absolutely no incentive to stay in a space a moment longer than you need it(indeed, if you pay per unit time, you want to leave as soon as you are finished, rather than being paid to tarry).

If one takes the view that ‘demand based pricing’ is the polite way of saying “If enough people can’t afford it, won’t it be so much more pleasant for the ones who can?” the distaste for a system that is both inefficient and prices some people out of public space, all for the benefit of a random absentee rent-seeker should approach being self evident.

I’m going to file this particular act of the dead hand of state oppression as “a pleasantly sensible exercise of state power in the common good, and the ‘innovators’ can shove it.”


A competing app is already planning to pay people to hold spaces…

One of the companies, ParkModo, is even hiring people at $13 an hour to occupy parking spaces in the trendy Mission District during the peak evening hours this week and then sell the spots as a way of promoting the company’s smartphone app.

Edit: that’s ITFA already…never mind.

I understand both sides of the argument with Uber and Lyft and AirBnB. Taxi services are run terribly and are in desparate need of innovation, even if some rideshare supporters are too quick to dismiss the real problems that taxi regulations were originally designed to address. And cars and apartments are private property that should have a default assumption that you can rent or lease to someone else. These are services that should be regulated but allowed. Auctioning off public parking places serves no value whatsoever, creates perverse incentives for hoarding, and will result in not only more expensive, but less efficient use of parking spaces. The fact that it essentially requires someone to have a smartphone and use it while driving just is the cherry on top of a turd sandwich. This isn’t innovation vs. regulation, this is just shitty behavior and extortion.

The good news is, it is going to be easy to stop. When all a cop has to do is sign on and ‘buy’ a parking place to write a $300 ticket you can be sure this isn’t going to last long.


It actually creates a more efficient use of parking spaces, allocating scarce resources to those who value them most highly. It’s not much different than the city sticking up a meter in front of the spot, in that it will drive turnover and give the spot to who wants it the most.

Think about the incentives. I have more incentive to leave if I can get paid a small amount for leaving, freeing up the spot (opposite of hoarding). Someone who is willing to pay for a spot, has made the tradeoff that they’ll be better off with the spot and additional time than circling for an unknown time looking for free (and burning gas while doing it, meaning this would probably result in a net reduction in pollution, through probably negligible).

So yes, more expensive parking (assuming demand outstrips supply, which is clearly the case), but more efficient allocation. The losers are a) as you point out, people without a smart phone, b) those people in the status quo who would have come across a space for free c) parking garages. The winners are those who luck into spots originally (or pay less for them than they sell them for) and people who value their time more than it costs to buy they spot.

So it’s not valueless, but the tradeoffs of winners and losers is arguable vs. the status quo. I also don’t think it boils down to “rich assholes” only. There have been lots of times I would have loved to pay $5 to find a spot for an hour in SF instead of having to go into a garage at $5 per 15 minutes (those without the luxury of setting our own schedules don’t always get to circle for 30 minutes until something opens up).

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Nobody is talking about the other side: people LOOKING for a DAMNED parking spot! If I have an app, I can hop on and see if there is one where I’m trying to get, and “reserve” it. That could potentially save a huge amount of headache for me. I’d be willing to pay someone who has a solution for that annoyance.

OK not nobody, as I am typing I see that Boojack has mentioned this at the bottom of their post.


Except it doesn’t do that. It is a one-time fee for parking. It doesn’t depend on whether you stay 10 minutes or 2 hours. What it does is encourage someone who is about to leave a parking place to wait until someone pays them to leave. Once you are in, you might as well stay as long as possible to get your money’s worth. At the extreme, it will encourage people to take available parking simply so that they can sell it, and in fact the company is encouraging this behavior as “promoting their app.” That is creating artificial scarcity and making it harder for everyone to find a spot.

I am in favor of demand priced parking, a system where the parking rate is increased in desirable locations. This encourages turnover. The hope is that this will create a steady-state situation where there are usually a few spots available on every block. It would also hopefully make this sort of nonsense unprofitable since finding a slot would be easy and holding one you weren’t actually using would be expensive.


If your time has no or little value, then yes. Otherwise, it’s an encouragement to move on.

The scarcity argument implies people who would not ordinarily be parking in free spots in the city would drive in, and spend all day cruising for spots and selling them. Maybe, but at first glance it seems dubious the economics of that would work out for them.

Although actually, now that you mention it, it would allow those time-rich, cash poor people (I.e. the poor / unemployed) to extract rent from those cash-flashing plutocrats, pretty much the opposite scenario of Cory’s summary.

The cash poor could also go around stealing government property to extract rent from the taxpayer, and they could really stick it to those plutocrats. Just because a public parking spot means the government has given you a right of usus, does not mean they handed over the right of fructus. I’m kind of surprised they don’t put a warrant out on the CEO for grand larceny.


When people choose to drive to a destination, they should just take their damn car with them when they arrive, not leave it out on the public street. No off-street parking? Don’t fucking drive then. Do it by phone, email, walk, take the bus, take a cab or ride a bike. I don’t care. We’re not allowed to leave our other shit laying around on public land, why make an exception for cars? I just hate what cars are doing to our urban environment.


It actually creates a more efficient use of parking spaces, allocating scarce resources to those who value them most highly.

Sometimes I really wish BoingBoing had a “downvote” button.


I’d like to see on-street parking treated similarly to multi-storey car parks, where there’s a uniform price for parking in a certain area (no free parking at all in more high traffic areas) and a panel saying how many free spaces are left in that area. That should reduce a lot of the traffic from people driving around city centers looking for that one free space. If you wanted to go more high-tech, you could presumably have smarter parking meters that only accepted your code once you had reserved a space and an app integrated with GPS to direct you to the next space that became free in the area (or told you how many cars were ahead of you in the queue for a space). Private people who had a small area which could be used for parking could even be integrated into that system. I don’t know how feasible it would be, but it would be good to see something along those lines.

You make it sound like people would leave their spot early because they’re getting paid. What people would actually do is to use their spot as long as they need it (as they do now), and then, instead of leaving, wait around a little longer until somebody pays them to leave. That’s how I’d operate, after my conscience put up its brief and futile struggle.

On the other hand, I don’t see how the law can be interpreted to forbid this. People speak indignantly about “selling a parking space”, but that’s clearly a metaphor. (We have a quite well defined procedure for owning and selling land; it involves deeds and a public registry. None of that happens here.) It’s my right to stay in my space until it expires, and I may freely choose to leave early. I may communicate with others about my situation, and (until some [bad] law is passed against it) they may pay me to influence my choice.

The creation and use of this app sure does seem dickish, but it’s even more surely lawful.

Not when it creates a traffic hazard. As noted in the post, it isn’t just the selling of the spots that’s a problem. It’s the increased number of distracted drivers who are checking their phone screens trying to find a spot instead of just looking out their windscreens.

Here in SoCal, traffic is really awful. Where I live, people park and then don’t move their car until a friend or family member comes along to ensure that spot won’t be lost. We also have a terrible problem with people double parking (which I’ve noticed has gotten much worse over just the last couple of years). People don’t just double park and turn on their hazards. They do it on streets barely wide enough for two cars traveling to pass each other, and then stand on the street side having conversations!

In this area, people rent out their garages and condo car spaces. The city has tried to help with parking. Just blocks from my house are two city parking structures. They’re 24 hour lit and security on site. The only restriction is that your car is permitted, so it’s not transferrable. If you live in this area, you can get a discounted monthly rate of $45/month for use. People would rather pay twice that (or more) and not walk a few extra blocks!

The trouble is that (unlike a uniform hike in parking rates, whether static or variable based on demand at a given time and place) these apps, and their partial-adoption condition, encourage lingering(ones that pay enough might actually make it profitable to put cheap labor in beaters, at least to lock down high-value areas; but even if that doesn’t happen, lingering is still the issue). If I’m getting ready to leave; but am an app user, I don’t get paid/reimbursed unless another user of the same app takes my spot. If I just leave, now, I get nothing. If I linger until another user shows up, I get money.

(This is likely to be a particular problem, quite possibly by design, because of ‘loss aversion’ in humans. For whatever reason, humans reliably value not losing something they have more highly than getting the same thing that they don’t have, so even people who would take an ‘Are you nuts?’ stance toward an offer to sit in their car for 10 minutes in exchange for $4.50 are much more likely to sit in their car for 10 minutes when leaving would mean ‘losing’ their $4.50. Silly hominids).

If one takes the position that parking places should be priced to achieve a market equilibrium, and avoid luck-based allocation, fine: raise the rates. In absence of that, though, incremental quasi-rate-increases sap the overall efficiency of allocation and funnel the profits directly into some unrelated 3rd party’s pockets, not even a (sometimes theoretical) return to the city and citizens.

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Just like taxi medallions!!

IndustroCorp owns a factory, the machines in that factory, the wadgets they purchase, and the widgets they produce and sell. If an employee that operates a widget printer for IndustroCorp to make widgets using wadgets, can that employee legally bring their own winguts to make whatsits using the widget printer and sell those whatsits on the side legally without permission from IndustroCorp?

IANAL, but I imagine that kind of behavior is not legal in all jurisdictions, and establishing laws enforcing the property rights of fructus are not all that controversial in a capitalism based society.

My job requires that I arrive at 4PM, and work until 1AM, what am I supposed to do? My city doesn’t have a single public transit route available at 1AM that traverses the 13 miles between where I work and where I live. I also can’t possibly afford to live in the city where I work. I’m not going to cycle 13 Miles in the middle of the night, as there’s no public cycle route that’s open in the dead of night. Quite literally my only option is to drive, and park on the street, because all the garages within a mile of my work close at or before 11PM, and my car would either be locked up until daytime, or towed at my own expense.

There are other people than the day dwellers, we have to do stuff too. It’s just a lot harder since it’s rarely profitable to run what amount to public services at 24 hours a day.

I sympathize to some extent. In recent years I’ve made choices that minimize the need for a car, and have particularly avoided circumstances that would require me to commute by car (life’s too short). My rant was really directed more strategically. It would be just so much nicer if we didn’t have to have cars laying around everywhere, but to achieve that, we need a collective will. I accept that your current circumstances lead you to commute by car, and to leave your car in the street. Cars and parking are just too damn convenient. (B.t.w my bicycle commute is about 15 miles each way. In the dark at least one direction for half the year, too.)

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