MonkeyParking announced Thursday that it has temporarily suspended operations in San Francisco to avoid the ire of the city attorney, who previously warned the company that its service, which allowed its users to auction off public parking spaces, was operating illegally.
The company explained its decision to suspend operations in a blog post in which it says its mission is to “[save] people time while also reducing traffic congestion and generated pollution” and that it’s “working to avoid any possible improper use of our service and provide a positive tool for the City of San Francisco and its inhabitants” when it returns.
San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera warned the company that its service was illegal in June in a letter sent to a number of similar services and Apple, which allowed MonkeyParking onto the App Store. Herrera also decried other services that take public utilities and privatize them:
Technology has given rise to many laudable innovations in how we live and work — and Monkey Parking 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. People are free to rent out their own private driveways and garage spaces should they choose to do so. But we will not abide businesses that hold hostage on-street public parking spots for their own private profit.
In my report on Herrera’s letter, I noted that MonkeyParking and similar services aren’t about taking a private good and making it available as part of the so-called sharing economy — and that the startup’s ability to identify appropriate launch times must be completely lacking:
MonkeyParking couldn’t have chosen a worse time to operate in San Francisco. The city’s residents have grown increasingly hostile to the techie scum (I’m paraphrasing) who have claimed its streets as their own with company-run buses and other services that rely on public infrastructure without returning anything to non-techie residents or San Francisco itself. Now this company wants to create a so-called private market for public parking places? That’s a business that would make even Uber chief executive Travis Kalanick rethink his priorities.
MonkeyParking will inevitably be compared to other “sharing economy” services like Uber and Airbnb, which have also struggled to convince regulators that they should be allowed to run in peace. The difference here is that MonkeyParking’s users aren’t renting out their spare room or driving people around in a car they paid for, they’re auctioning off a public good that they have no right to sell in the first place. It’s not getting paid for access to a good, it’s scalping.
That’s just as true today as it was when that report was published. MonkeyParking wasn’t as bad as some companies, which hired people to occupy public parking spots until someone else purchased them through their service, but it was still a stunning example of tech’s problem with thinking that it can monetize anything without having to worry about the public’s reaction.
MonkeyParking might be able to make its model work some time in the future, but unless there’s a fundamental change in the way San Francisco and its residents view a startup that thinks it has the right to take a public good and privatize it, it’s not going to be welcomed with fondness.