- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Nothing can ruin one’s day like navigating the District’s notorious traffic jams and maze of one-way streets and closed-off avenues, and then finding no place to park.

More than 496,000 commuters drive into the District each day, but with only 16,000 metered parking spaces in the city, drivers rarely find a place to park on the street. Instead, many motorists are forced to pay $20 or more to park in a garage or commercial lot.

“A lot of people don’t come downtown because they see parking as a nuisance, and there are no spots,” said Jason Boseck, president of Mobile Parking LLC in Baltimore.

Mr. Boseck is part of a new breed of private parking companies hoping to bring relief to congested city streets. By calling 1-800-PARK123, Mobile Parking customers can speak with an operator who will find them a vacant space at a nearby parking garage.

Over its five-year existence, Mobile Parking has wooed local parking companies, including Landmark Parking Inc. and MarcParc Inc., and encouraged them to submit vacancy information to his parking database.

“My relationship with parking garages lets me get the information and give it to my customers,” Mr. Boseck said.

Mobile Parking charges customers $1.75 for each parking reservation they make.

However, area parking-lot operators doubt that reservation services can solve the District’s parking problem.

“Typically, parking doesn’t need to be reserved,” said Mike Nichols, a spokesman for Parking Management Inc. in the District. Mr. Nichols said the mobile reservation business is a “solution looking for a problem.”

“You may need a reservation for sold-out shows, sporting events or holidays, but other than that, you can drive to any garage in D.C. without a problem,” he said.

SpotScout Inc., a startup company in Cambridge, Mass., is another firm hoping to curb parking issues in the nation’s largest cities.

SpotScout gives its customers a visual display of nearby parking spaces right on their cell phones.

Like Mobile Parking, SpotScout has a database that posts real-time vacancy information from parking lots and garages.

“We want garages to take advanced reservations and depart from the old form of randomly driving in and parking,” said Andrew Rollert, founder and chief executive officer of SpotScout Inc.

SpotScout also allows customers to bid on private residential spaces, which sellers can rent while they’re at work or out of town.

SpotScout users can also sell information about what time they intend to vacate a public parking space, which other users can purchase.

“The person who purchases the information is given an advantage over other parkers,” Mr. Rollert said. “They are told the time, location and make, color and year of the car.”

SpotScout offers the service to users for free, but takes 15 percent of each transaction made over its network. The cost of a reservation is set by the network’s users, so it varies widely.

Skeptics question the company’s plans for public parking spaces. “SpotScout will run into problems with people selling something in the public domain,” Mr. Nichols said. It is illegal to reserve a parking space that is owned by the District, he said.

SpotScout concedes that sellers might not vacate a space when promised, and buyers could lose a space to someone else. In those cases, the company said, users will not get their money back. The only spaces that are guaranteed are private spaces or those reserved in commercial lots and garages.

SpotScout’s service is viable in cities that have automated parking systems that stack cars and monitor vacancies electronically because that information can be incorporated into the company’s database.

But garage owners say SpotScout has a long way to go before the startup gains traction in the District.

“The primary problem with D.C. is that garages are parked manually and typically don’t have automated equipment that can be [incorporated into an] online database,” said Greg Maxey, senior vice president of Central Parking Corp., a Nashville, Tenn., parking company with several garages in the D.C. area.

SpotScout is testing its service in Boston, San Francisco and New York, and has plans to expand into the District.

“D.C. is a prime market for us,” Mr. Rollert said. “D.C. has one of the worst supply ratios for parking in the country.”


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