Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Put a needle in this Haystack, why don’t you

As someone who has actually owned a car in a densely occupied urban environment where the parking ain’t easy, I well understand the frustration surrounding the hunt for a parking space.

When I had to commute by automobile – never, ever, ever my preference – I initially tried to get by without paid-for parking. I did get my Beacon Hill sticker, which entitled me to park on our fair neighborhood streets if and only if I could find a space. Which sometimes took a long and brutal search, which generally ended in my giving up and paying for overnight parking in the nearest garage.

After a while I smartened up and got worker-bee parking in that garage.

For $100 a month – it’s more now, but still a bargain – I had to exit by 10 a.m. each workday, and could enter only after 4 p.m., but had unlimited in-and-out on weekends, holidays, and snow days. Since I have been blessedly blessed with good health, I seldom had to figure out what to do on a sick day. On vacations, I parked at the airport or left the car at my sister’s.

When I started freelancing, car ownership became more problematic. I couldn’t justify paying for full-time parking for a car I seldom used, so I hit the streets. A complete and utter drag that eventually resulted in my giving my beloved Beetle to Volunteers of America.

So you’d think I’d be all over an app that let’s people more easily find that elusive space.

Well, not if it works like Haystack.

All wrapped up in a combination of like a good neighbor and unleash the inner greedster verbiage:

Help your neighbors by offering your street space before you head out with a simple tap. Cancel without penalty at anytime if nobody has taken your spot.

Not planning on heading out, but willing to move your car for the right price? Offer your spot for extended time during the most in-demand hours to help your neighbors who need it most.

Haystack lets you alert a fellow Haystacker that you’re about to leave your space, giving your estimated time of departure, your location, a description on your vehicle, and a head’s up on how long you’re willing to wait. The charge for this is $3, of which 75 cents goes into Haystack’s coffers. (The “willing to move your car for the right price” option is called Make Me Move, and lets you set your price.)

What’s wrong with this picture?

Well, what happens when hapless, app-less Mom and Dad Ohio with three squalling kids in the car see you get into yours and think, hey, it’s my lucky day.

Well, maybe Dad Ohio is not Midwest nice. He’s Midwest pissed. (Those three squalling kids…)

And forget about Mom and Dad Ohio. They can go find a garage.

What about those neighbors who, like you, have a parking permit. They see you get into your car and think, hey, it’s my lucky day. Only to have the Haystacker wave them off. Only to see the Haystacker give it up for his fellow app-savvy urban parking guerrilla.

Having narrowly avoided a couple of I-saw-it-first confrontations of my own, and having witnessed plenty of them, this does not end pretty.

It’s one thing if you actually own the parking place, quite another when it’s a place the city owns.

Anyway, Haystack launched in Baltimore, but has come to Boston.

The Hub of the Universe – at least the folks who run it – is not exactly excited about this:

“That has implications that at first blush are alarming to us,” said [Mayor Marty] Walsh’s chief of staff, Daniel Koh. “When a space is available, it should be available to anyone, regardless of whether they have extra money to pay for it.”

…Haystack’s 24-year-old founder, who says his app is an innovative solution to one of urban living’s great frustrations, contends the company is not selling public property at all. Rather, it is selling information about public parking — specifically, when spaces are about to open up.

“There’s no sale of physical property,” Eric Meyer said. “This is neighbors exchanging information for a fee, and they have every right to do that. What you’re really paying for is convenience.” (Source: Boston Globe)

Although Boston’s official tone was initially somewhat open toward Haystack, they’ve now come out saying they’ll put a stop to it.

In this, they’ll be following the lead of San Francisco

City attorney Dennis Herrera has threatened to fine three services —MonkeyParking, Sweetch, and ParkModo — if they do not cease operations, accusing them of “hold[ing] hostage on-street public parking spots for their own private profit.”

“It creates a predatory private market for public parking spaces that San Franciscans will not tolerate,” Herrera said in June. “Worst of all, it encourages drivers to use their mobile devices unsafely — to engage in online bidding wars while driving.”

Sweetch is like Haystack (only costs more). MonkeyParking is auction based. And ParkModo

…has taken to hiring drivers — at $13 per hour — to occupy street spaces at peak hours in busy neighborhoods as a way of increasing app usage.

How neighborly can you get?

Personally, if someone wants to order a pizza, do their laundry, or find the nearest hookup via app, well, have at it.

If you want to auction off your own personal, personally-owned space, have at that, too

Boston will be coming up with an app that let’s people know where metered spaces are open, and that makes sense to me. But there’s something completely unsavory about the Haystack pay-up app approach to a public good or service.

I know there’s no stopping the march of technology, but I’d be just as happy if someone put a fully-loaded needle in this Haystack.

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