- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 26, 2014

Popular mobile apps designed to ease the stresses of city life are meeting with resistance — from the cities themselves.

Apps that allow users to auction off their prime parking spots or give rides to strangers who would rather not wait for a taxi are bumping up against city regulatory structures that aren’t quite sure what to make of them.

San Francisco made national headlines this week when the city banned the new “MonkeyParking” app that allowed drivers to auction off one of the city’s most precious commodities — parking spaces. San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera sent a cease-and-desist letter Monday to the company declaring that the free mobile app violates the city’s police code by buying and selling public on-street parking slots.

More such fights are likely in the offing.

App-based services, like MonkeyParking and Uber, are “testing the limits of existing regulations and business practices in managing and operating today’s transportation system,” D.C. Department of Transportation spokesman Reggie Sanders said.

MonkeyParking enables users to auction off public parking spots for personal profits ranging from $5 to $20, depending on supply and demand.

The company could be subject to penalties of $2,500 under California’s Unfair Competition Law if the San Francisco decides to sue. Mr. Herrera has given MonkeyParking until July 11 to discontinue operations in the city and violators who continue to auction their parking spots will be fined up to $300.

“Technology has given rise to many laudable innovations in how we live and work — and MonkeyParking is not one of them,” Mr. Herrera said in a statement, warning that it creates a “predatory private market for public parking spaces.”

Mr. Herrera added that the app encourages the unsafe use of mobile devices behind the wheel.

People are still allowed to rent out privately owned parking such as driveways and garage spaces, just as long as no profits are made from reserving public on-street spaces.

San Francisco officials are also asking Apple Inc. to remove the MonkeyParking app its App Store, arguing that MonkeyParking violates Apple guidelines that “apps must comply with all legal requirements in any location where they are made available to users.”

MonkeyParking isn’t alone. Sweetch and ParkModo, two similar companies preparing to launch apps that profit from the sale of public parking, are also subject to fines and potential lawsuits from San Francisco.

Sweetch officials argue that they do not violate city regulations because they only sell information about available parking, not the spaces themselves, an argument San Francisco regulators reject.

Even app-based ridesharing services like Lyft and Uber are causing problems for cities. The popular services put a twist on the traditional taxicab vehicle-for-hire model by allowing people to request and pay for rides from regular drivers in the area through an app.

Just this week, cab drivers snarled traffic in the middle of Washington D.C. to show their disapproval of the unregulated alternatives to traditional public transportation.

The state of Florida is re-evaluating regulations on its codes to accommodate ride sharing services. Currently, Uber drivers are operating without the permits and licenses that taxi drivers are required to have, sparking protests from more traditional services.

Outside of San Francisco, the MonkeyParking app is only available in Rome, where it was developed by Paolo Dobrowolny and two friends. But the company is seeking to expand to more cities, including New York, Boston, Berlin and Hamburg.

Mr. Sanders, the District transportation spokesman, said that “parking spaces in the District are considered part of the public space, owned by the DDOT. We don’t allow any commercial use of public space without a permit, and in this case we don’t have a permit that would cover this kind of operation.”

MonkeyParking may face hurdles in New York as well.

City traffic regulations there say that “it shall be unlawful for any person to reserve a parking space, or prevent any vehicle from parking on a public street through his/her presence in the roadway, the use of hand-signals, or by placing any” objects, markings or signs in the roadway.



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