Parking space apps driven out of San Francisco, and that’s a good thing

Why just drive away from a great parking spot when you could auction it off? It came as news to me, but people are already doing this in San Francisco thanks to iPhone apps like MonkeyParking and Parkmodo, which let you sell your parking spot to the highest bidder.

The fun appears to be at an end, however, as San Francisco’s top lawyer has sent out a cease-and-desist telling MonkeyParking to stop renting out city property without permission.

“Technology has given rise to many laudable innovations in how we live and work — and MonkeyParking is not one of them,” City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in a statement, adding that he is also asking Apple(s AAPL) to pull such apps from its store.

The head of MonkeyParking disagrees, and is framing the city’s decision as an example of overbearing regulation.

“We believe that a new company providing value to people should be regulated and not banned. This applies also to companies like Airbnb, Uber and Lyft that are continuously facing difficulties while delivering something that makes users happy,” said CEO Paolo Dobrowolny in an email statement to the Wall Street Journal.

The legal case is interesting. San Francisco is arguing that the parking apps violate a city law that forbids anyone to “enter into a lease, rental agreement or contract of any kind…for the use of any street or sidewalk.” MonkeyParking, for its part, makes a clever counter-argument that people are simply selling information about their departure time and not, as the city says, renting real estate.

So who’s right? My own two cents is that San Francisco and other cities should smother these services as possible. Despite MonkeyParking’s attempt to try to frame its apps as part of the so-called “sharing economy,” the comparison doesn’t hold up.

While other “sharing economy” examples involve companies using technology to expand and better allocate existing inventory such as taxis (Uber) or apartments (Airbnb), the parking apps are predicated on introducing new scarcities. They create an incentive to introduce more cars to further limit parking, which will aggravate city stress — and in way that favors the rich to boot.

“It’s as if AirBnB were paying people to burn down hotels,” wrote one wag on HackerNews, pointing to ParkModo’s reported practice of paying people $13 to sit in cars and rent out spots.

Update: it turns out there’s a peer-to-peer service called CARMAnation that lets users swap and sell private parking spaces. Co-founder Ashley Cummings wrote to say San Francisco gave them a green light this week (which makes good sense given that the site involves the leasing of private property, and will increase parking resources.)

Here’s a copy of the cease-and-desist and a press release with more details:

Monkey Cease Presskit

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