Eric Meyer with Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake at a press conference. (Courtesy Haystack)
The right to a parking space in Baltimore City has had a long and interesting history. After every Snowmageddon, numerous lawn and kitchen chairs are placed in cleared out spots to claim territory as if they were the United Kingdom rolling through India a couple of centuries ago.
And if you don’t respect the chair, there is hell to pay.
However, the most interesting aspect of “the chair” practice is that there are no set rules as to when and how it’s applied. How much snow is needed to claim a spot? How long does the power of the chair last? No one has ever assembled a Council to deal with these pressing parking questions.
So with this City’s quirky history and customs, you could see my skepticism when I heard about the Haystack app that would allow people to “buy” parking spaces. Some have anointed the Haystack application as the parking messiah for those who live in down town Baltimore.
If you somehow did not hear, Baltimore residents now have use of a new Parking App
If you live downtown, you’ve had that discussion with your friends about the parking situation. But few of us have had the moxie to quit our job in the attempt to do something about it. Canton resident Eric Meyer did just that when he came up with a parking app that would allow neighbors and friends to alert each other when parking spaces would become free.
Haystack even allows app users to submit their vehicle type so you can match space size.
To make it worthwhile for users, Meyer monetized the process where those parking will pay $3 while spot leavers earn $2.25. A quarter of the payment goes to Haystack Mobile Technologies. Now, there is also another option called the “make me move” feature that allows those leaving a spot to charge a premium for a space in a high demand area.
You can either leave your balance in your account or have it deposited to a bank account.
After about it for a while, I’ve come to believe that this new app may have a place in alleviating parking congestion in some downtown neighborhoods – but that depends upon how app users and Baltimore City tackle the next 4 points.
As app creator Eric Meyer said, “Haystack does not sell any parking at all. Haystack simply facilitates an exchange of information between neighbors.”
App users are not entitled to the spot. You are paying for the information of where an open space may be. Hopefully, the person that sold the information will use the GPS function and wait for you to pull-up. But that may not always be possible. They may have to leave earlier than or stay later than expected and you may not get that space. We need to realize that there’s a little bit of gambling involved with this transaction.
Let’s look at the wording from the aforementioned quote. Meyer used the word “neighbors”. Don’t think that during the weekends, festivals and other events that Haystack will be viable. Those “outsiders” from beyond the waterfront neighborhoods and the Charles Street Corridor are not going to care what your fancy smartphone says you just bought. They have parking spaces in front of their houses or garages and nothing makes them angrier than to look for parking on their semi-annual trip downtown. It’s bad enough that when they do find a space – and do have to parallel park – we look at them mockingly.
Haystack Nation will be composed primarily of those who share in the struggle of on-street parking in their neighborhoods on weeknights.
As long as you incentivize a process with money, there will be people that will try to take advantage of it and you. Could you see an influx of cars in the neighborhood right before rush hour? That’s a strong possibility if someone thinks they can get paid for that spot.
For those who live in the neighborhood, we know that the best parking situations are during the day on weekdays. Would we have an influx of parked cars waiting for a payday? Is there anything that could be done to prevent this from happening?
Baltimore Parking Authority due diligence
The Executive Director of the Baltimore Parking Authority said that the Haystack concept must be a “Baltimore Thing” because he had never heard of anything like it being implemented in the country. However, over the past four years quite a few apps have been launched all over the world that cover the entire parking gambit.
Cities like New York City and San Francisco have seen multiple apps launched in their cities. Boston will soon be able to use the Organic Parking app this month – which is attempting to become the Uber of on-street parking.
Why the Baltimore Parking Authority is not aware of them, I do not know. However, now knowing that our city is not some guinea pig gives us the advantage of looking at the pros and cons of parking software implementation in other cities and take what we can from them.
Unlike many people I’ve talked to about Haystack, I don’t have a strong opinion either way if it will be successful or a disaster. What we need to understand is that this is a new experiment taking place in a lot of cities around the world. If it does work, it’s not just about the technology but on how we – as a community – all use and react to it.
Jason spent eight years at T. Rowe Price serving in various roles from investment counseling to retirement planning. In 2005, he became Senior Security Analyst at Wells Fargo Corporate Trust in their Residential Mortgage-backed Securities division. He has contributed to several financial newsletters and the Motley Fool website while completing his thesis and Master’s Degree in Government from the Johns Hopkins University Advanced Academic Program. He resides in Baltimore.