Take out your smartphone. Click a button and say “SMALL WORLD COFFEE”. Instantly, your phone provides turn-by-turn directions to…an open parking spot near your destination of choice. You arrive shortly, and pull straight into the spot (without driving round on a frantic search for parking for 10 minutes). Getting out, you click a button, and payment is automatically charged to your online account. It’s the ‘Airbnb of Parking’ app, the software that makes parking in Princeton a breeze.
Fact: Princeton has loads of parking. Absolutely loads. Tens of thousands of spaces. Another fact: most of the best parking sits empty even at peak times. How is this possible? It’s because loads of parking is dedicated for one specific use. If you operate a bank, or an office building, or an apartment complex, the parking has to be sufficient for peak use. But peak use is only achieved at certain times of day. Maybe only once a week (if you’re a church, for example.) The rest of the time, the spaces sit empty. What a waste. That unused parking should be rented out when it is not needed.
Take for example Jay’s Cycles on Nassau Street. Parking is “for customers only – day or night”. But Jay’s is only open a maximum of 9 hours a day. On Saturday evenings, when restaurants in East Nassau are filling up, the store closes at 5.30 p.m. What possible value is there for anybody in preventing people from parking here after that time? Jay’s could/should be collecting revenue from restaurant clients parking here, by taking advantage of an easy-to-use online service. That would also make it easier for people to get parked, potentially reducing the amount of traffic trawling around nearby residential areas looking for somewhere to temporarily store a car.
This is the Airbnb model. Unused space is rented online. Pricing can be set by the owner of the parking space, allowing a true market in parking to open up. Through an app, users could select how far they are prepared to walk to get parked, and how much they are prepared to pay per hour (which could vary from 10 cents per hour to $10 per hour). Clear branding on a sign could identify parking spaces as ‘AirPark’, or whatever the clever app designer chose to call this program. (These signs would also indicate that the parking was designated for app users only, and interlopers would be towed.)
People who own parking spaces could set the exact times when they are available for rent. If you run a church, and really need your parking on a Sunday, then block out Sundays on the app. But make some or all of your spaces open for the rest of the week. Hundreds of extra spaces in Princeton could be made available like this, without the need for a huge new municipal parking garage (which would itself sit mostly empty for all but peak times). Businesses would earn extra dollar from an unused resource, and car-drivers could find parking more easily. The app would be almost infinitely scalable, and even public or on-street parking could eventually be rented in the same way.
The problem for a potential developer is that other people are onto the idea already – check out parkcirca.com and parkjockey.com. But neither of these services are available in Princeton right now, and it’s doubtful that a national developer would ever target our little town. Time for a clever Princeton app developer to be the Facebook to their Friendster…
Interested in using technology for solving problems in Princeton? Check out the ‘Code for Princeton Civic Hackathon‘, which is taking place this weekend- June 6-7 at Princeton Public Library.