The Parking Spot Wars
Back in February, I told you about SpotScout, a startup working on a system that drivers can use to search for vacant short-term and on-street parking spots from their computers or mobile phones. At the time, SpotScout was getting a lot of pre-launch publicity (CEO Andrew Rollert had recently appeared on NBC’s Today Show), and the company said it planned to turn on the service in Boston in February and in San Francisco and New York a couple of months after that.
Well, it’s been almost seven months since our story, and SpotScout still hasn’t launched. So I sent Rollert a note last week to find out what’s up. He said that the service is available now to a private group of beta testers, and that the company is busy “adding new feature sets” before it lifts the veil. “We’re in no rush to put up something that’s sub-average like our competitors,” Rollert wrote. “There’s 3-5 years of market operations before any one company has a real product—and no one’s going to get that lead any sooner with crappy bulletin boards like our competitors.”
Rollert may be right about the time horizon—and one can certainly make a case against launching a platform that’s not bullet-proof, particularly when your market consists of anxious drivers going around in circles, competing with everyone else on the crowded streets for the parking spots closest to their destinations. But it may be a bit over the top to characterize all of SpotScout’s competitors as “crappy bulletin boards.”
There’s one site in particular, Toronto, Ontario-based ParkingSpots.com, that seems likely to divert a few of the customers who might otherwise turn to Rollert’s service. By helping commuters to find long-term rental spots in urban cores, it could dampen demand for more expensive hourly spots.
I spoke last week with Aynsley Deluce, one of the partners behind ParkingSpots, which really did launch its service in February and includes Boston and Seattle among its covered cities. The whole premise of the site, she says, is that most cities have more potential parking spots than drivers are aware of—for example, in residential driveways, condominium garages, and out-of-the-way commercial lots. “Parking is an issue in every city,” she says. “The one thing you can’t control in a city is that we’re all running out of space. But there’s all this dormant space like your driveway that can be used in creative ways—it’s just that there’s no venue for doing that.”
Deluce says that she and her business partner actually purchased the “ParkingSpots.com” domain name six years ago. “We were enjoying a bottle of wine with some friends, and we were all urban, city-center people, and the one common bitch about living in cities was parking. After a couple more bottles, we went online and saw that the ParkingSpots domain was available. We said ‘Let’s park this’—no pun intended—and wait and see how things go. About two years ago, we started to see some services popping up addressing parking, and we were starting to get a lot of offers for the domain. And then last October or November we finally decided we were ready to start developing our own service.”
Non-commercial parking spot owners can create listings on ParkingSpots.com for free; the company’s revenues come from commercial operations (defined as anyone renting two or more spots together; the fee equals one month’s rent, due upon a successful match). Of course, anyone can create a free parking spot listing on Craigslist, too. But the problem with the listings at Craigslist, says Deluce, is that they’re not kept up to date. “A lot of times you’ll go there and find that the spot is already gone,” she says. “Our inventory is up-to-date, so there are no let-downs.”
ParkingSpots.com also offers a “proximity alert” that notifies users by e-mail if a spot becomes available in their desired neighborhood. In fact, the reason why you won’t find very many listings if you search the ParkingSpots website for spots in Boston is that so many people have signed up for these alerts that “as soon as a spot is up on the site it disappears,” Deluce says.
Deluce hopes that both drivers and property owners will find the site useful. “A lot of the guys—and by guys I mean women, too—that we have on our site could be just a small businesses or Speedy Muffler or Midas or a shop with extra spots on their property,” she says. “They are going to see a lot of advantage.”
Back at SpotScout, meanwhile, Rollert says his team is working on services that could add value to his site’s parking-spot-finder function before opening up the site to the public. For example, because the company will have information about where and when a users plan to park in a certain neighborhood, it could pass along time-specific discount offers for local shops or restaurants.
“Parking is really more about search, than just the spots,” Rollert said in note. “People don’t hop in their car to go to a garage, or a private or on-street spot, they go there for something to do or buy and the parking spots is merely a part of the procedure. No one else is hitting that angle like we are.” But this time, he’s not estimating when SpotScout will hit the streets.