When you create an app that auctions off public property for private gain, what could possibly go wrong? Well, let’s check in with our good friends at MonkeyParking to find out. Last month, MonkeyParking received a cease and desist letter from the city of San Francisco because it was allowing drivers to auction off their public parking spaces to other drivers. (Dickish? Or genius? San Francisco says dickish.)
So MonkeyParking is “temporarily disabling” its San Francisco service. It says it has no plans to completely shut down its San Francisco operations, but plans to resurface when it can do so “within the intent and letter of the law and in full cooperation with the local authorities.” Currently, the only other city in which it’s operable is Rome.
The cease and desist letter gave MonkeyParking until July 11—today—to shut down their service or risk a $2,500 fine for every violation of California’s Unfair Competition law. Because, as it turns out, it’s illegal to “sell” public space.
When the city issued the cease and desist last month, MonkeyParking tried to weasel its way out of it by arguing that users are simply selling “information”—and that sharing information is protected by the First Amendment. (Slow clap.)
MonkeyParking isn’t the only one doing this, either. Sweetch is another parking app that allows users to “buy” parking spaces from other users—and Sweetch has also been issued a cease and desist order.
MonkeyParking argues that it’s simply the latest product of the sharing economy, apparently unaware of the fact that public space is already shared. CARMAnation is a parking app that actually does fit the sharing economy bill, as it allows private property owners to rent out their driveways to other drivers.
What really fries my nads about companies like MonkeyParking is how they try to put forward a noble narrative. Example: MonkeyParking’s blog post about the “temporary suspension” of service.
“Street parking is currently not a first-come-first-served process, but still a random-served one: you can go in circles for hours while a lucky driver can find a spot in a minute, right in front of you. It is an old and painful problem and we believe that drivers deserve a better solution.”
It’s unfair! Why should randos be able to get a parking space when you have money and a smartphone and can buy a better city living experience?!
These days, pitching your startup is like writing your college admissions application about your volunteer abroad experience, where you’re legally obligated to end your essay with “I went there to change lives, but the life that was really changed in the end was…my own.” But let’s call it like it is. You started a company to make money off of public infrastructure. Boom—done.