Disruptors, to arms: San Francisco stops startups selling public parking spaces
The cult of disruption is going to be pissssssed. San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera has warned MonkeyParking, a service that allows consumers to auction off their public parking space, that it will be subject to legal action if it doesn't suspend operations by July 11. As he wrote in a letter sent to the company and to Apple's general counsel (because Apple allowed the application onto its App Store and Herrera wants it to be removed) earlier today:
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.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.
Paolo Dobrowolny, the company's chief executive and co-founder, previously defended its plan to the San Francisco Chronicle by claiming that the service is a "fair business for anybody" and that anyone worried about spending $20 on a public parking spot can just make that money back later. That means that everyone comes out ahead... except the poor sap who gets to the parking spot later in the day -- you know, when people are just getting out of work -- and can't find any takers for the $20 parking spot in front of their friendly neighborhood Chipotle.
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.
Herrera's office plans to send similar warnings to other startups, one of which encourages users to give their parking places to other users and the other of which plans to pay drivers $13 per hour to park in the Mission and then sell their parking spots to its users. These companies are "subject to civil penalties of $300 per violation" and "potentially liable for civil penalties of $2,500 per transaction for illegal business practices under the California Unfair Competition Law," the office said. (MonkeyParking is said to put drivers "on the hook" for $300 fines.)