Last year, IdeaScale had the pleasure of discovering an uncommon crowdsourcing initiative that’s solving a common problem: parking. San Francisco-based Park Circa is working to create a network of micro-shared spaces where members can use their app to easily find parking anywhere in the city for the same price as a single space in a single location. The idea being that if you have a driveway or piece of street that you can share for a few hours, you can automatically make some cash in your Park Circa account by renting out your space to someone who needs it.
The project is still growing and gaining traction and I was fortunate enough to ask Chadwick Meyer about Park Circa’s progress and what the future of the infinite crowdsourced parking lot might look like.
IS: What is the future of Park Circa? What critical mass of owner/parking participants do you need to take Park Circa out of beta?
PC: Park Circa’s future depends on the interest of each community to embrace this idea for their own benefit. We believe it will happen and that we have the best platform and vision to make it happen, but it’s going to take a while for people to adjust their patterns of behavior and realize the benefits of sharing.
We’ve had amazing feedback from people, and everyone says it’s a great idea. They say it’s seems like an obvious win-win for everyone. But we have two challenges. First, we need to figure out how to translate people’s interest into action. People with parking spaces get too busy or they are content with the status quo or perhaps have other unspoken concerns, so at the end of the day not enough people are sharing their spaces in a concentrated area. So that’s the first social obstacle we are figuring out.
The other challenge is that we are conducting marketing tests on a very limited budget, so our sample sizes are pretty small. We are honing in on the best methods, and the best areas to gain early adopters, so that we have some hard numbers that can justify a larger investment of our own capital (and possibly outside investment when the time comes). We have people signing up every day and about 10% of them are sharing their spaces. So that’s a great conversion rate, we just need to get the word out to everyone in a particular community. Because the organic signups that we’ve gotten from around the country and around the world have not been in a concentrated enough area, and until we get critical mass in one neighborhood, the app is not very useful.
IS: What impact do you see this making on Bay Area parking?
PC: If we can create critical mass in specific neighborhoods, we believe that people would begin using Park Circa to discover, pay for, and reserve parking. The experience is very empowering. And the current iteration of our app is only the beginning of the possibilities. We have many ways that we can improve the entire parking experience for people, once we get critical mass. There are probably 30,000 private driveways and unknown thousands of private garage spaces that could be shared on our platform in San Francisco alone. In comparison, the city garages contain 15,000 parking spaces, and there are about 25,000 metered spaces in the city. So the impact of shared parking could be huge.
In addition, there is controversial access to on-street parking that blocks private driveways. This is city-owned space, but the owner has right of way and can allow guests to park there. In some neighborhoods, there are so many of these curbcuts that the street parking is almost impossible because the curbs aren’t long enough for a car. But if owners can share their right of way, and give permission for drivers to block the driveway, we can help put this public space back into public use again. Many people have decried this as unethical to allow home owners to “make money” on renting public street space. But technically they are not renting the street space, just the right of way. They are enduring an inconvenience to sharing their right of way access, so we need to give them some incentive to do so. Anyone parking on the street still has to follow all city laws, but they just are paying for the owner’s permission to block their driveway for a period of time. And the important thing to realize is that this allows us to use our limited urban land more efficiently.
IS: What sort of technology is Park Circa functioning on?
PC: Our web platform is using Gutensite’s CMS running on mostly open source software, for example we are running on Rackspace’s cloud servers using Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP to power our site and the API that powers the apps. Our apps are running on iPhone, Android, and Windows. It’s a good solid platform that can easily scale.
IS: Has this ever been done before? What are the challenges?
PC: No one has ever done real-time sharing of parking spaces before. There have been communities like Craigslist that share parking spaces on a monthly basis or other services that have shared driveways on a daily basis but which required a lot of manual interaction between parties via email. Our approach has been to automate the process and to allow people to find parking real-time. There are a lot of spaces that are empty for just a few hours a day, so our platform allows people to micro-share those spaces as well as spaces that are empty 24/7. The challenge we face now is social adoption. We are ahead of the curve here, and we need to show people what’s possible.
IS: What do people who have used the beta version say about Park Circa?
PC: So far our focus has been primarily on creating a solid platform and building up inventory. So we have not pushed for usage yet. However, those that have used the spaces near them have been excited about the ability to find available spaces on their phones and pay for just the time they use. And the owners that are making an extra hundred dollars per month are happy to convert their unused assets into cash. Everyone wins.
IS: How much territory do you take in? What other cities would you like to serve in the future?
PC: There is no reason our platform can’t work internationally in every city with wireless access. This is easily scalable. And parking is not just a big city problem. There are many colleges around the country with parking problems during the week or on game days. There are countless small towns that have parking problems for high school football games and holiday events. There are parks or beaches without adequate parking nearby, but ample private driveways. Our philosophy has been to build a robust tool that is flexible enough for people to figure out how to make it help them in their community.
Thanks, Chadwick. Looking forward to seeing what’s next for Park Circa. And, as someone who recently relocated to the Bay Area, I can tell you that I’m glad of having a few more parking options that are just an app away.