Parking apps with an urban impact catch governments’ eyes

| July 4, 2014

Building an app might be easy. Getting people to use it could be tougher. But you know you’ve got something big if you’ve got the government’s attention. TicketZen is one such app that caught the government’s eye when it promised to remind users of parking tickets and in the process “improve time to collection and collection rates for cities.”

If you tend to forget to pay your parking ticket fine, Ticket Zen will make it easier for you to remember. Users can scan the barcode of the ticket with the Ticket Zen app on their smartphones. Then after entering their card information, they can pay the fine.

“When citizens start to ask for your product – to their government – it adds instant credibility,” says Ticket Zen co-founder Cort Johnson. The strategy seems to have paid off.

Parking ticket

Paying a parking ticket becomes easier with TicketZen. Image by Alice Keeler

Ticket Zen is now supported by six city governments, including Boston, San Francisco, and New York. Popularizing their service among citizens before roping the government in was easy for Ticket Zen, because it didn’t need the city to run the app.

Targeting businesses like private garages

SpotHero is an app that chose to gain the confidence of private vendors before focusing on citizens. It connects citizens to garages with available parking spaces. This reduces wait time of its users and their chances of getting a ticket due to overstaying at a spot . Users can park at a more affordable rate too.

Little touches help SpotHero stand out. “Loved having the directions to entry of a lot that otherwise would have been a bit hard to find, and the picture of what it looked like as well,” says Brian, a Chicago SpotHero user.

Auctioning public parking spaces

MonkeyParking lets people leaving a parking spot, auction it off to others nearby who are looking for a place to park. Prices begin at $5 and there are default options going up to $20.

However, MonkeyParking seems to have stepped on the toes of the San Francisco government, which recently sent it a notice asking it to stop operations. Buying and selling public parking spots is illegal, says City Attorney Dennis Herrera.

“We’re just providing information when someone is leaving,” says Monkey Parking CEO Paulo Dobrowlny. When asked whether the app favors the rich, he disagreed. “If you think you can get that money back when you leave that parking spot, you can earn back the money when you leave the spot.”

Governments and app developers have different priorities

Startups can avoid miscommunication with city governments by understanding that government goals prioritize doing good over profit. “Don’t do something because you can, do something because it will make peoples’ lives better,” says Nigel Jacob, co-founder of the Boston Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics (BONUM). The organization works with start ups and government bodies to generate solutions to civic challenges.

Also, “be prepared to deal with multiple departments within the government, even if you think your company/product/service is only relevant for one department. For example, TicketZen has had to work with the Department of Transportation, Finance, Legal, and the Mayor’s Office,” says Jacob.

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Category: Municipal, Parking

About the Author ()

A graduate in English Literature from St. Stephen’s College, Delhi, India, Nupur also has an MBA from the Faculty of Management Studies, Delhi University. Nupur is currently trying to be as savvy a cook as she is with a book. She likes watching plays and sunsets. Nupur first lived in Kolkata and then for a decade in Delhi, still her favorite city.

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