San Francisco Goes Bananas Over Parking App

As a long-time customer of our San Francisco car rental agency, you know how difficult it is to find a parking spot in the city’s busy urban areas. Which is why innovative parking apps have become such a lifesaver. Simply whip out your cell, fire up the app and presto-changeo, you’re given access to real-time stats on spots that are available in your area. 

Technology is so great, right?

Except when the government decides that it isn’t. Which is exactly what happened late last month when the city of San Francisco ordered the Rome-based startup, Monkey Parking, to halt operations after declaring the parking spot auction app is illegally auctioning off public land. A cease and desist letter was sent at the end of the month insisting that company cease operations in the city. The City Attorney Dennis Herrera’s office also sent a request to the legal department of Apple Inc. to immediately remove the mobile applications from the iTunes App Store citing that it violates Apple’s own guidelines on legal requirements.

But that’s not where the story ends. Because in true tech style, Monkey Parking’s CEO is refusing to back down, and has left his application up and running for San Francisco car rental travelers to enjoy. Needless to say, his reaction has more than a few people going bananas at City Hall.

What’s the Fuss All About?

As a San Francisco car rental driver who’s constantly frustrated by poor parking, you might be wondering just what all the fuss is about. Shouldn’t the city be embracing an app that helps eliminate traffic congestion and helps more motorists get in an out of the downtown? Well, according to some sources at least, the city does support these sorts of efforts, provided they’re executed in a legal and acceptable manner. The problem with apps like Monkey Parking is that the app makes a profit off of the sale of public land.

According to the cease and desist letter that was sent to Monkey Parking, the app violates Police Code section 63© which prohibits anyone to “enter into a lease, rental agreement or contract of any kind” for public parking spots. These violations are enforced with a costly penalty of $300 per transaction, which would fall on the Los Angeles car rental driver who “sold” the parking spot. The startup could also face fines of up to $2,500 per transaction thanks to California’s Unfair Competition law, which comes into play whenever a business is built on an illegal framework.

Not surprisingly, the cease and desist letter was full of some pretty hostile language, as San Francisco car rental travelers can see from this quote:

“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.”

Other Apps in Jeopardy of Litigation

The City’s action against Monkey Parking wasn’t an isolated blow, however. San Francisco car rental travelers with subscriptions to Sweetch and ParkModo might also want to reconsider their parking approach. Both of these companies were also warned late last month that they’ll be receiving cease and desist letters if they don’t follow suit and change their operating model.

What Does This Mean for Parking Innovation?

If Monkey Parking were to adhere by the city’s requests and remove their app, the move would set a precedent against apps that help drivers earn money by helping other motorists out. That being said, the law is quite clear and these apps are by no means legal. While these apps appear to help motorists find parking quickly and more efficiently, they’re not really that affordable. In fact, the companies are lining their pockets each and every time a user “sells” a spot… a spot that clearly doesn’t belong to them!

Then again, if you’ve ever been stuck in the Mission District, circling around and around looking for a spot, you might not care that you’re being exploited. All you want to do is park your San Francisco car rental and call it a day!

We’ll continue to follow this story at Super Cheap and will do our best to notify our San Francisco car rental customers of any new developments.