Since the city of San Francisco rolled out their SFpark program a couple of years ago, numerous tech companies have seized the opportunity to offer drivers phone apps to find empty parking spaces. And because San Francisco is nearly unique in making its sensor-driven parking data freely available to any company who asks, there are plenty of firms who have converged on the city-by-the-bay to showcase their parking prowess.
One company that has moved quickly to capture a big share of the available data is ParkMe. The three year old company not only uses all the on-street parking information provided by SFpark, they also claim to have captured data for nearly all of the city’s parking lots and garages as well. “We now have the entire picture of parking options in San Francisco,” says Sam Friedman, co-founder and CEO.
Friedman and his co-founder Alex Israel have come a long way since they started their website in Los Angeles by capturing the city’s vast parking inventory the old fashioned way. “We were bicycling around,” recalls Friedman.
Now parking lot operators in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and other cities have a dashboard program they use to enter data on available parking spaces as often as four times a day. This, coupled with real-time data provided by SFpark whose street-embedded wireless sensors feed a constant stream of parking space information, gives ParkMe users a fairly complete overview of parking options in San Francisco, where the simple act of finding a place to put your car can be cause for wild celebration.
According to Friedman, San Francisco is one of the few cities to willingly open their data to any tech company who wants to use it, even though SFpark maintains and promotes their own parking app. Los Angeles, to choose one noteworthy example, does not. San Francisco’s interest in reducing traffic flow in the city and controlling pollution apparently overrides their own technology self interest. “SFpark’s goal is to get this in front of as many users as possible,” says Friedman.
The result has been a virtual explosion of tech apps that monitor parking in San Francisco. In addition to SFpark and ParkMe, users can also find spaces through sites like ParkNow and VoicePark. There is now even a phone app called PayByPhone that lets you feed the meter remotely in many cities across the country, including San Francisco.
The SFpark program has received its share of criticism, primarily because of a dynamic pricing model for its meters that allows parking cost to rise dramatically in periods of heavy demand. Drivers also are not thrilled about the ability of parking enforcement to zero in quickly on expired meters since the sensors can report who’s overstayed their limit at any given time.
But San Francisco also deserves credit for embracing an open model that lets tech companies like ParkMe and others build technology around the data they can easily provide. “The city is very ‘techy’ and forward thinking,” says Friedman. Just make sure when you park there, you keep the meter well-fed.