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Parking spaces and the crowd

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Parking spaces and the crowd

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The application of crowds for the efficient allocation of car parking spaces has been something of a hot topic in recent weeks.  Central to the hubub has been a stir created by peer to peer apps MonkeyParking and ParkModo, who have both been embroiled in legal issues surrounding their operations.

If you haven’t heard of the apps, they both attempt to improve the information surrounding parking availability.  MonkeyParking for instance, allows users to bid between $5 and $20 to secure parking spaces that are about to be vacated by fellow users.  The fuss around their operation revolves around whether they are selling an asset that does not belong to them (the parking space), or merely information about that parking space.

San Francisco’s city attorney Dennis Herrera is currently firmly in the former camp, and has ordered the company to cease operating on the city’s streets or face a lawsuit.  There has been much debate about the veracity and suitability of such apps, but one thing that does appear clear is that they are servicing a need in areas where prices are often below their market clearing level.

A study, published recently by researchers from the University of Florida, explored this issue in its analysis of crowdsourcing applications for the location of vacant car parking spaces.  Their experiment requested that users browse parking spaces on the campus and tag them as either full, half empty or empty.

This data was then fed into an algorithm, which would combine with the trustworthiness of each user to predict the vacancy of a particular slot.  Central to the experiment was the creation of a smartphone app that would allow users to report on the occupancy level of parking spaces.

The San Francisco courts may put a stop to MonkeyParking, but it seems that innovation in this area is inevitable, as the availability of parking spaces throughout the urban landscape is likely to remain a problem for sometime to come.

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