Parking drives people insane, which explains the reaction to a wave of smartphone apps that allow people to sell the rights to street parking spaces. Last month the city attorney of San Francisco told three such companies—MonkeyParking, Sweetch, and ParkModo—to stop operating. Haystack, a similar app in Boston, has drawn heat from the mayor, and a local lawmaker recently introduced a bill designed to shut down the street parking gray market. Journalists and social-media philosophers argued the apps embodied Silicon Valley tone-deafness.
The ethics of profiting by selling access to public property certainly seems problematic. Each app sets up a market in which a driver who is about to pull away from a spot can earn a few dollars by waiting around until someone who has paid for that information can pull in. The companies keep a commission. Critics say this could create an incentive for people to squat in parking spaces, cashing in by creating more congestion. None of this has happened, though, because it’s not yet clear that these apps would make a difference at all. “A lot of people started to theoretically talk about scenarios that didn’t actually happen and could be easily avoided,” says Paolo Dobrowolny, one of the founders of MonkeyParking.