San Francisco puts brakes on parking auction app

City attorney says MonkeyParking's business model is illegal and creating a "predatory" market for parking spaces.

monkeyparking.jpg
MonkeyParking's app in action. MonkeyParking

It's no secret that parking is a pain in San Francisco, but now the city is demanding that the makers of an app aimed at mitigating that nightmare shut it down.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera sent a cease and desist letter on Monday to MonkeyParking, an app that lets iPhone users auction off the street parking space they are about to vacate to other drivers searching for a spot to park. The Rome-based startup has until July 11 to cease operations in the city or face legal action, according to the letter, a copy of which was sent to Apple along with a plea for the tech giant to remove the app from the App Store.

"Technology has given rise to many laudable innovations in how we live and work -- and MonkeyParking is not one of them," Herrera said in a statement. "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."

Herrera said that selling or leasing public on-street parking is specifically prohibited by the city's Police Code, exposing the app's makers to civil penalties of up to $2,500 per violation under California's Unfair Competition Law.

Federico Di Legge, co-founder and CTO of MonkeyParking, told CNET that the company was consulting with lawyers and couldn't comment specifically on the letter.

Herrera also accused two other startups of using mobile apps to illegally monetize public parking spaces in San Francisco. One service, Sweetch, charges a flat $5 fee to its users when they obtain a parking space from another Sweetch user, according to the city attorney's office. Drivers who hand off the space to fellow Sweetch users are refunded $4, the office said. Another startup called ParkModo was offering drivers $13 an hour to occupy spaces in the city's Mission District that would then be sold to users of its app, Herrera said.

The action caught Sweetch co-founder Hamza Ouazzani Chandi off guard.

"We really don't understand why they want to shut us down," he told CNET. "We are trying to solve the huge parking problem. The city should understand that the worst thing to do is to accept the status quo: 20 minutes to find a spot, 30 percent of congestion due to parking, which causes pollution and many other problems."

ParkModo, which doesn't appear to have launched yet, could not be reached for comment.

The intersection of traffic and tech has at times turned the streets of San Francisco into a battlefield. Ride-for-hire service Uber, which is based in San Francisco, faced a legal battle on its home turf in 2012 when it was sued by the city's cab drivers, who claimed unfair business practices.

There was greater disdain for the shuttles operated by Google and Facebook to ferry employees living in San Francisco to their offices down the peninsula. After several protests blocked the buses, the city's transportation authority approved a pilot program that would require the bus operators to pay a fee for use of certain transit stops around the city.

The MonkeyParking app was still in the App Store at the time of writing this article. CNET has contacted Apple for comment on whether it planned to remove the app and will update this report when we learn more.

 

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