In a Post-Haystack Boston, City Exploring More Parking Technology

Paul McDonald of Canton using a City of Boston Meter Card to pay at a parking meter in the Financial District of Boston.
Paul McDonald of Canton using a City of Boston Meter Card to pay at a parking meter in the Financial District of Boston. –David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe

Remember when Haystack came to town? The controversial app allowed users to sit in parking spaces and auction them off to other drivers seeking parking. The City of Boston made it pretty clear that it was against the idea of people profiting off of public parking, first with a strong critique from Mayor Marty Walsh and then with a City Council ordinance that effectively banned its use, leading Haystack to shut down in Boston.

But while the city was anti-Haystack, it says it isn’t against the idea of using tech to improve parking—so long as it doesn’t involve a company encouraging its users to sell access to public property like it’s some sort of post-apocalyptic land grab.

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Last year, the city launched an app showing parking availability in the Innovation District. The city is also exploring new ways to pay for metered parking using a smartphone.

On Tuesday, Mayor Martin Walsh’s administration announced it has partnered with TicketZen, a smartphone app that allows users to pay off parking tickets by scanning a barcode. That doesn’t make getting a ticket any more pleasant, but it should make paying for them a little less of a hassle.

Boston.com has learned the City has also had conversations with another company whose app could help you avoid those parking tickets in the first place. StreetParkd is interested in partnering with Boston. The app, which hasn’t launched yet, intends to serve as a database for drivers, offering information about the myriad parking rules that can be tough to keep track of in Boston neighborhoods. (Think of all the signs for tow zones, resident-only spots, 30-minute parking limits, and more—sometimes confusingly jammed atop one another.)

StreetParkd would keep track of all those limits for its users, letting them know where they can park, and when they need to move. Based in Boston, StreetParkd collects data on its own but is also looking to partner with cities to “help them understand their own inventory,’’ give them access to parking data, and help them better manage their parking regulations, founder David Steigerwald tells Boston.com.

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While Steigerwald says conversations with the city are ongoing, the city did not confirm or deny having met with Steigerwald. Mayoral spokesperson Kate Norton said:

We have a responsibility to craft policies that reflect our values, protect public safety, and ensure that the benefits of the sharing economy extend to all of those within Boston. We welcome and encourage app developers and entrepreneurs to approach the City as potential partners, and we regularly engage in discussions about creative approaches to solve any issues with City services.

Haystack also had a meeting or two with Walsh’s administration before the mayor came out strongly against the app, an act that preceded its banishing. It’s no sure thing that StreetParkd will ultimately team with Boston—the only advantage to the city would seem to be that it wouldn’t have to do the work of compiling its own database of parking related rules and regulations. But it isn’t getting kicked out of town like Haystack was (at least not yet).

Why not? Well, while Haystack claimed it was facilitating an exchange of information between Boston drivers about parking spaces, the sober truth was that it existed to let drivers sell access to those public spots. It created a zero-sum game over a public resource: the Haystack user would get a public parking spot for a few bucks, and everybody else would be out of luck.

Something like StreetParkd, on the other hand, would actually serve as an information service about public property, rather than means to co-opt it. Its users wouldn’t get an advantage over anybody but the meter maid.

For that matter, apps that work similarly to Haystack but for privately-owned spots, aren’t likely to draw the city’s ire either. It was the transactions around public property that presented a problem with Haystack.

The city’s latest parking partner, TicketZen, is a different kind of animal in that it directly serves the city’s goal of collecting parking ticket revenue. But its adoption is another sign that City Hall is interested in innovating on parking.

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