When I lived in San Francisco in the mid-2000s, there was a homeless man in my neighborhood who made his living by standing in open street-parking spots, guiding drivers into them, and then badgering them for monetary compensation. It was sort of an obnoxious form of rent-seeking, but parking spots were hard to find, and the guy was clearly hard-up for gainful employment, so folks generally tolerated him.
Now, it seems, he—like so much else in the city—has been replaced by venture-capital-hungry techies hawking a hot new app. It’s called MonkeyParking, and it lets people auction off their parking spots to the highest bidder before they pull out and go on their way. As if it weren’t enough that middle-class San Franciscans are getting squeezed out of their housing, now they get to worry about some tech tycoon outbidding them for their parking spot. These are public, metered parking spaces, mind you, paid for by taxpayers.
The app has already been written up by TechCrunch and Wired, which called it “the latest addition to the sharing economy.” MonkeyParking co-founder Paulo Dobrowolny told the magazine he planned to roll it out next in Rome, then New York, Seattle, and Chicago.
I know this is Silicon Valley, where words have no meaning, but it takes a special brand of Ayn Rand–spouting nincompoop to try to pass off the unilateral privatization and scalping of public services as a new form of “sharing.”
Predictably, the team behind the app has responded to critics by claiming that this is all in the public interest.
@HalpernAlex we just provide info about spots that are going to become free. no intentions to do something bad: we aim at reducing traffic!— MonkeyParking (@MonkeyParking) May 2, 2014
Its defenders in the venture-capital community, meanwhile, have lauded it as an ingenious, market-based solution to the pressing societal problem of rich people having to wait in line for a parking spot like everybody else.
Fortunately, there’s a law for that, at least in San Francisco. On Monday, City Attorney Dennis Herrera slapped MonkeyParking with a cease-and-desist letter, citing a local statute that explicitly bars people from buying, selling, or leasing public on-street parking. If MonkeyParking doesn’t stop operating in the city by July 11, Herrera said, the city will sue, and the startup will be liable for up to $2,500 per violation. The city is also pressing Apple to remove MonkeyParking from its App Store, though the Cupertino tech giant has not done so yet.
“Technology has given rise to many laudable innovations in how we live and work—and MonkeyParking is not one of them,” Herrera said in a statement.
Good riddance, MonkeyParking. Don’t let the sharing economy hit you on the way out.
Previously in Slate: