When the snow flies in Boston, just about anything within reach can be drafted into duty as an emergency space-saver for that freshly shoveled-out parking spot. Ironing boards, lawn chairs, and garbage cans are table stakes—heck, I’ve even seen a baby’s car seat dropped next to the curb.
But there are also some slightly more advanced ways to tame the stress of parking during a big storm, like the blizzard that dumped two feet or more around the region in one night this week. And people are starting to take notice.
A new class of tech startups that let people reserve parking spots in lots, garages, or even private driveways saw some notable spikes in usage during this week’s storm. The patterns in their data hint at the kind of broader improvements that are possible when networked payment and booking systems are layered on top of real-world resources badly in need of a service upgrade—a target that is becoming more enticing to leagues of savvy entrepreneurs in the mobile computing era.
“That’s why we’re here,” said Elan Mosbacher, a spokesman for parking-search app SpotHero. “People get really emotional about parking.”
SpotHero, based in Chicago, has been offering its online parking service since 2011 and expanded to the Boston market in 2013. The company contracts with public and private garages, parking lots, and private valet-parking services to help them fill unused spots. Consumers who use the SpotHero website or mobile app can get significant discounts from regular prices, and SpotHero gets a commission for selling the spaces.
Another startup, Spot, is based in Boston and began operating in earnest this December. It allows private individuals to rent their parking spots to drivers looking for a space, turning a spacious driveway or unused private parking spot into a quick moneymaking opportunity.
(These are much different models than Haystack, the ill-fated startup that tried to let users sell their soon-to-be-vacated metered parking on public streets. Boston city officials shut the app down last year, annoyed that it was seeking to illegally profit from taxpayer-owned resources.)
As you might expect, both Spot and SpotHero saw increased use when the much-hyped storm began making its way toward the Boston area earlier this week. But they also saw another interesting uptick: users who were wary of several days of bad roads or lingering bad weather were taking advantage of the online booking services to reserve their spots for days at a time, much longer than normal.
“I was even a bit surprised by what people were doing,” Spot founder and CEO Braden Golub said.
Spot’s overall transactions more than doubled compared with a typical Monday, Golub said. But the length of time spot-renters were seeking was up more than 400 percent—meaning that people who usually rent a private spot for a day or less were booking them for three or four days at a time. … Next Page »
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