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Looking for a place to park? Grab your phone and try these apps

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By Jeff Zurschmeide


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If there’s one universal challenge to living in a city, it’s the near-impossibility of finding safe, convenient and affordable parking. We can talk all day about the car-sharing and ride-sharing economy (and we have) and we can talk about the coming wave of robo-taxis prepared to meet our transportation needs, but right now what most of us need is a pointer to a decent parking space.

Believe it or not, there’s a thing called the International Parking Institute. It says that, “in 2012, there were approximately 300 million registered cars in the U.S.; that represents half of the world’s passenger cars.” The IPI also states that a single on-street parking space can be valued at up to $20,000 per year in revenue to local businesses and local government, and that off-street parking can be up to three times higher.

The bottom line is that parking is a huge business in America, and in Europe, Asia, or indeed in urban environments anywhere. To tap into that business, developers have come up with a variety of parking apps for your phone, and a few other specialty parking businesses are operating online.

Basic parking on your phone

Parking apps are not all created equal. First, get used to the notion that you’re going to need several different apps for different purposes. Some parking apps work exclusively with sports venues and special events, but most work with established off-street parking garages and lots, listing available spaces based on data provided by the parking operator. The use model is simple – you bring up the app, it tells you which garages have spaces available and the price, and you reserve a space.

One of the largest providers using this model is Parkmobile. Digital Trends contacted them to ask how their system works.

“We work with all types of clients, such as municipalities, universities, private operators, transit, event venues, airports, stadiums, etc.,” Parkmobile responded. “Essentially anyone that offers paid parking we can partner with and integrate our solution.”

There’s no charge to get the app, but when you use Parkmobile to get a space, the company charges a per-transaction fee. “On average $0.35 per transaction, but it varies from client to client,” Parkmobile says. Parkmobile’s client is the parking facility you’re using.

Related: Stop wasting gas in the city with the app that knows when traffic lights will change

So while it’s a little bit more expensive to use Parkmobile instead of just driving to the parking garage, there are benefits including the ability to add time to your parking remotely, getting alert notifications, and paying through the app. Parkmobile also offers the ability to reserve parking spaces ahead of time. Oh, one more thing – alt-phone users rejoice! Parkmobile is available on virtually every phone platform, including iOS, Android, Blackberry, Windows, and Amazon Fire.

The parking space sharing economy

Companies like Parkmobile have mobile access to the parking garages and lots handled, but there’s still space for companies that want to get creative. Emily Webb is the co-founder and CEO of MyLücke, (My-Lookah) an on-demand, private parking marketplace. The company name is derived from a German word that means space or gap, and you can find them online at www.mylucke.com.

“MyLücke’s goal is to help provide more available parking spaces for both consumers and commuters who encounter continuous issues in finding a place for their car,” Webb says. “We offer hourly, daily, weekly and monthly parking, while serving as an additional source of income for people with under-utilized parking spaces.”

Webb’s big idea is to set up a “virtual Airbnb for parking” where people with private spaces in high-traffic areas can rent their driveways, garages, and sideyards conveniently.  The idea also extends to non-traditional parking operators such as churches and evening or weekend businesses that may have dedicated parking going unused on weekdays.

From the parker’s side, MyLücke shows available parking that other apps won’t have, and also offers a full-time parking concierge.

“Parkers can filter and look at all the features that a parking space has, whether it’s a dead-end street or the type of driveway: concrete, asphalt, or gravel,” Webb says. “We give them an hourly rate and a daily rate, and we leave it up to the user to filter out where they want to go, what type of space they’re looking for, and we show them what’s available. Upon confirmation, they receive the details of the location.”

On the parking provider side, owners list their space with MyLücke and no other action is required to receive income.

“If you list your driveway for $10 a day, we tack on 20 percent that the parker pays,” Webb explains. “Our goal is to support the people who are providing the inventory and to help people make money. So you receive 100 percent of the rate you set.”

Many private property owners might be reluctant to offer their space for rent because of liability issues, but MyLücke is working on that.

“Right now our terms of use puts the liability on the parker,” Webb says, “but as we expand we hope to have an umbrella insurance policy that our users can engage, like AirBnB has.”

MyLücke also protects the parker in the event an advertised space is not available.

“They can submit an e-mail or call the call center and get a full refund, and then we find another space for them and comp the space for the inconvenience,” Webb says.

At the moment, MyLücke is available only on Apple devices and operating only in Los Angeles, California, but Webb has plans to expand after the details are worked out.

“We’re taking it one day at a time, listening to user feedback and updating the product,” she says. “We’re trying to evolve into the best parking app on the market.”

Related: Stop! Or your next car will for you, thanks to automatic braking

One company bridging the gap between commercial parking garages and the person who has a free driveway space is SpotHero. SpotHero currently lists parking spaces in 15 cities across the United States, including New York, Boston, Baltimore, Washington D.C., Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, and Seattle. SpotHero lists options in both commercial parking structures and individual locations.

If you’re looking for a locked and secure garage rental, check out the brand-new Garage Pointer website. This service is geared towards more expensive cars and long-term rentals. Garage Pointer’s unique features include mandatory insurance coverage to protect both renter and the landlord.

Parking magic – finding open on-street parking

It’s all well and good to find a space in a parking garage, or rent someone’s driveway for the day, but the biggest challenge is finding an open on-street meter in any urban area. That’s the problem that ParkNav set out to solve. Instead of directing you to the nearest parking structure and taking a cut of the fee, ParkNav shows you where you’re most likely to find available on-street parking, whether metered or free.

“It sounds like magic, but it’s simple data science,” says ParkNav’s VP of Business Development, Gerhard Boicuic. “Our solution is opposite to what everyone was thinking five years ago, that finding parking could only be solved with sensors.  We believed right from day one that sensors were just not scalable, and too expensive. We said there must be a better way.”

Boicuic is cagey about revealing exactly how ParkNav works, but it seems to depend on a variety of inputs, including the kind of crowdsourcing that makes Waze a useful navigation tool.

“Without disclosing our secret sauce, there’s no singular source,” Boicuic tells Digital Trends. “It’s actually a lot of sources, including historical data. We are talking to cities and municipalities, and we receive data wherever possible, but you need real-time data from drivers driving around. That’s where the magic has to happen.”

Related: Why buy the car when you can buy the trip? How the ‘Peak Car’ era is ending

Every business has to make money, and ParkNav doesn’t charge its users. So how do they stay in business?

“We don’t make money on the consumer side,” Boicuic says. “We make money on the B2B side. We offer this solution to automakers, and also to municipalities. We’re having great conversations with cities in the U.S. and Europe.”

Parking in your dashboard

As Boicuic says, companies like ParkNav and Parkmobile are looking to integrate their technology into the next generation of your car’s on-board navigation system. The idea is that your car’s navigation system will tell you how to get where you’re going, and then find you a parking space when you get there.

BMW has been leading the charge in Vehicle-to-Government connectivity, integrating the Enlighten app into some cars last year. Now the automaker is reportedly working with both ParkNav and Parkmobile to implement space-finding as well. Parkmobile also reports that it is currently partnered with Ford and Audi on a pilot program that would incorporate its app into vehicle dashboards, allowing drivers to manage parking without the use of a smartphone.

With parking apps like these maturing and both automakers and cities getting on board with maximizing parking efficiency, the days of endless circling looking for a space may soon be gone forever. Good riddance, I say.

This article was originally posted on Digital Trends

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