The Haystack parking app launched in Boston last week, and to test out the service I did exactly what the city doesn’t want. I used it. Or, I tried to use it.
I held two public parking spots hostage creating a “predatory private market,” as a San Francisco city attorney called it, that would benefit almost nothing except my credit card balance. That was the goal, at least. It failed miserably.
Haystack, which originated in Baltimore, lets you sell access to public parking spaces, sending out an alert to other users looking for spots in the area that you’re about to leave. The transaction takes place when the spot is exchanged, with Haystack taking a brokering fee (reportedly 75 cents for the sale of a $3 spot). That is—theoretically—how it’s all supposed to work.
From 3-4 p.m. on Friday, I cruised around Boston trying to sell spaces that I very much did not own, only to find that the platform doesn’t have nearly enough users yet. During the one-hour effort, I received zero offers for what were fairly desirable spaces. Only one person offered me a spot, and it was in the middle of the Charles River. More on that later.
A few minutes after 3 p.m., I pulled up to Kenmore Square in my friend’s SUV and snagged the only available spot, right in front of Eastern Standard. For those who don’t know, this is essentially the royalty of parking spots. I put one quarter in the meter, giving me 12 minutes to find a buyer. My offer eventually expired without any takers a minute or two before the meter timed out, and during that time not a single spot opened up around me.
A little deflated, I decided to try Newbury Street, land of many cars and far fewer available parking spaces. A spot was open in front of the Pinkberry at the corner of Newbury and Gloucester Streets. I snagged the spot, this time not wasting a quarter that I might not earn back. Again, there were no takers. It was almost 3:40 by this point, and I was looking at negative $0.25 profits on this excursion.
Haystack starts your account off with a $5 credit, so I spent the rest of the hour driving around with the “Find A Spot” feature on. A message popped up on my phone from Haystack a few minutes later saying, “Hey! We found you a spot.” For $3.00, someone was going to let me park in the middle of the Charles.
The Haystack ‘label’ said the spot offered SUV street parking, legal until 11:45 p.m., which I’m assuming was the time at which my friend’s car would have floated away into the Atlantic, never to be seen again. I passed on the illustrious river spot and turned around to head home.
So there’s no predatory marketplace for Haystack, yet. Or marketplace at all, really. Just a chance to lose $0.25 and waste an hour driving around downtown while, somewhat safely, staring at your phone.