L.A. City Council Puts The Brakes On Illegal Parking App

The Los Angeles City Council is taking steps to prevent people from using an international app that allows them to earn money for handing over public parking spaces they are about to vacate.

Monkey Parking, an app based in Italy, allows users to turn their driveways into metered parking spots. An individual with the app looking for an open spot can pay the owner of the driveway a flat rate to park his or her vehicle for a set duration of time.

The problem: the app does not enforce what users consider “driveways,” which prompted much of the controversy in America. So, an individual who is leaving a street parking space can inform others and cede the spot for money through Monkey Parking.

“Using city resources by a private entity to profit off of public property — it’s just not feasible,” said Michael Nagle, city attorney liaison for the Los Angeles Department of Transportation. “We couldn’t let that happen here.”

The transportation committee approved an ordinance Feb. 17th explicitly prohibiting the selling or temporary reserving of public land without the city’s approval.

The meeting, originally scheduled for 2 p.m., was delayed one hour until the required quorum of councilmen could meet. Paul Krekorian, Tom Lebonge and Mike Bonin voted to move the ordinance discussion to the general council meeting on Feb. 20th where it was unanimously approved and later signed by the mayor in March. Joe Buscaino, Felipe Fuentes, Jose Huizar, Bernard Parks and Paul Koretz were not present at the general meeting.

Bonin put forth the proposal after the parking app company, Monkey Parking, attempted to operate in the cities of Santa Monica and Beverly Hills in October 2014. In the same month, Councilman Mike Bonin led a motion to outlaw the app from selling parking space in the City of Los Angeles all together.

The new ordinance prevents any other companies and operations similar to Monkey Parking from establishing operations within city limits. The parking app’s establishment in the region prompted the council to change the rules.

“We’ve criminalized the behavior because it really is stealing,” Nagle said. “We have the toughest law in the country right now.”

In Boston, parking apps such as Monkey Parking were outlawed in 2014 after government officials recognized potential problems with the app.

The East Coast city’s low public parking rates have caused an influx of automobiles in commercial and residential areas, forcing motorists to drive around blocks several times or use parking apps to save time — and money — instead of using private parking lots.

“Most communities always want more parking, particularly where it is cheap,” said Lisa Jacobson, a transportation planner for the Boston division of Nelson Nygaard Consulting. “The apps are showing people that the conventional ways cities manage parking are typically outdated and not appropriate for 2015.”

If used legally, Monkey Parking can turn an empty church lot into a parking space for commuters during the week, effectively freeing up city streets for short-term use.

“In this respect, the parking apps are doing a great thing. They are bringing more private supply into the public market,” Jacobson said. “With that said, however, you should not be taking a public good and selling it on the private market.”

Other cities, such as San Francisco, have chosen to reinvent their parking systems as a result of the growing app industry. The “SFpark” pilot program encompassed 7,000 metered spaces, or about 25 percent of the city’s total amount. SFpark used demand-responsive pricing that helped the city provide more parking spots at lower rates — at the same time as lowering greenhouse gas emissions by the end of 2014.

“Municipalities have the entire supply of parking to deal with, and whatever changes they make affect all users,” said Gordon Hansen, a Nelson Nygaard transportation planner involved in Bay Area projects. “The real challenge for entrepreneurs is how many people are going to opt in to their program. This is another reason that apps like Monkey Parking haven’t worked so well.”

Monkey Parking, and two similar apps, were issued cease-and-desist orders by San Francisco’s city attorney in June 2014, effectively prohibiting much of their operations in the city. This is one reason the company recently tried to expand into new Southern California metropolitan markets.

But not everyone thinks the solution to the parking pandemic should reside solely with either private or public entities. Ronald Tomcek, former chairman of the Linda Vista Planning Committee in San Diego, said that a balance between the two sides could greatly improve the situation on all fronts.

“If larger cities took a percentage of parking app profit, they could then use the funds, in addition to taxpayer dollars, to repair the surrounding streets or work on providing better public transportation,” he said.

The City of Los Angeles now awaits implementation of the parking ordinance effective April 19, 2015.

Giovanni Moujaes is an L.A. municipalities beat reporter and sports radio analyst for the Julie Chen/Leslie Moonves and CBS Media Center. @giovannimoujaes.

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Note: A version of this story has appeared in the USC online publication Neon Tommy. It has since been updated.

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