‘MonkeyParking’ or Monkey Business?
By Leonard T Bier
Editor’s note: “MonkeyParking” is a mobile app that allows users to “hold” on-street spaces for a fee and await others in the area who need a spot to park. The city of San Francisco sees this as monetizing a city asset; MonkeyParking (monkeyparking.strikingly.com) sees it as a service. JVH
Reading the recent stories about MonkeyParking vs. San Francisco’s City Attorney Dennis Herrera has been entertaining. It was inevitable that the print and Internet press, as well as social media, would be all over this because of the storyline.
The conflict is simple for people to understand: It’s a David vs. Goliath type of story, with a touch of Robin Hood.
David – the small, Rome, Italy-based tech start-up – is fighting Goliath (evil government authorities) to allow Robin Hoods (entrepreneurial individuals) to share information and make some pocket money from parking spaces they “liberate.”
The context works for the tech press and their obsession with all things related to “the sharing economy.” Some pundits have suggested that MonkeyParking’s idea would make parking easier and the process of parking somehow more efficient. Other articles and commentators have compared Monkey Parking to Uber and AirBnB.
Although I root for the underdogs in the movies as much as anyone else, I’m afraid to say, “This dog doesn’t hunt” for me. The primary issue and fallacy in the MonkeyParking business model is that the underlying asset being monetized – on-street parking spaces – belongs to the public, not to MonkeyParking or to any single individual.
MonkeyParking’s business model raises other concerns besides
Think of the annoying person who stands in an empty public parking space, holding the spot for a car that is about to come. Unfortunately, this infrequent social behavior, which has been the cause of shootings, physical assaults and assaults with a motor vehicle, is about to become commonplace and haunt us on a daily basis.
Because, according to MonkeyParking, it is now a socially acceptable business practice! Soon, “fellow monkeys” can spawn from everywhere to block public parking spaces and release them at a price premium.
It’s not hard to imagine, for example, an astute taxi driver who is waiting for a customer to take advantage of the MonkeyParking universe. Why drive and burn gas cruising looking for a passenger for a short haul? Why bother to wait at a taxi stand?
Park on a busy street in a legal parking space and wait until you find a passenger who wants to book a long haul for a good fare, or wait until someone pays you money to vacate your prime parking space. Waiting and blocking a parking space has never been so easy and lucrative!
If you have been to some developing country, you will see that blocking public parking spaces and making a profit from that exists as an illegal yet prevalent business. It’s typically run by a person who blocks an on-street public parking space with furniture or trash cans, and then asks you for a “tip” to kindly remove the obstacles.
MonkeyParking has now brought the same Third World business model to the U.S. as a social media innovation.
And here is the final problem. Parking on-street at peak parking hours causes a massive traffic congestion ripple effect. It happens when you drive slowly to make sure you don’t miss an available parking space, which can be 2 to 3 miles per hour. The drivers behind you, if there is no passing lane, have no choice but to follow at an equal pace.
When you find your parking space, you stop to parallel-park. Except now, when you see someone you think is ready to vacate a parking space, with the MonkeyParking app, you’ll have plenty of monkeys holding onto their spaces and following the bidding wars on their cellphones for the space you wanted to park in.
Traffic congestion is not simply a bunch of random independent congestion events. Traffic studies and timed photography have demonstrated that congestion cumulatively related to parking can cause traffic to back up all the way to larger avenues and even highways - especially at times when special events take place.
The “green” solution is actually to take a vehicle out of the traffic grid as soon as possible and park it either at an off-street location or on-street as close as possible to the driver’s final destination and without circling around at all.
That is the concept behind Professor Donald Shoup’s advocacy of congestion or progressive pricing, which attempts to keep the curbline at 85% occupancy and 15% vacancy at all times, contrary to MonkeyParking’s business model.
If you want to talk about the sharing economy?
There are online parking businesses out there, such as ParkAtMyHouse, that trade in a way that is legal and can create additional revenue for people without abusing public properties. This business model lets people rent out their private driveways as available parking spots. Secondly, it doesn’t create incentives for “monkeys” to emerge around the city to block public spaces or increase congestion. Finally, it actually takes vehicles off the grid, instead of getting them stuck in the grid.
In an on-street parking environment as Shoup has proposed, parking spaces should be of short duration to promote curbline turnover for parking space availability and priced by time of day and overall on-street parking system occupancy level to true market value.
MonkeyParking is diverting to individual parkers the marginal true market progressive or congestion price of parking, which should be realized by the municipality and reinvested in the host neighborhood. MonkeyParking’s business model is bad municipal public policy, planning and finance.
ParkJockey, ParkAtMyHouse, ClickandPark and other companies with cellphone app parking reservation systems for available off-street spaces are a better solution for on-street parking congestion in urban environments.
In fact, they generate additional municipal revenues in congested urban environments where a municipal parking tax is added to the price of off-street parking.
Leonard T Bier, Esq., CAPP, Principal of Bier Associates – Parking and Urban Development Consultants, is a consultant to parking industry companies, including ParkJockey. Also Executive Director and General Counsel of the New Jersey Parking Institute, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Article Abstract from August, 2014