“MonkeyParking” — A Testament to the Absurdity of Free Car Storage

A new app called “MonkeyParking” being tested in San Francisco has made the rounds in local media this week for its bizarre driver-to-driver payment system. Here’s how it works: A driver leaves her car in a valuable parking spot and tells other app-using drivers that she is willing to move it for a price of up to $20.

Whether the app will have any effect or even pass muster with the law is almost beside the point. “MonkeyParking” is a great illustration of how free or underpriced curb parking in SF is completely absurd. If the city isn’t willing to put a rational price on a limited resource in high demand, profiteering drivers can and will step in to take advantage. Talk about the high cost of free parking.

It’s no wonder drivers are willing to create their own ad hoc market to allocate the limited supply of curb parking. As Streetsblog has written extensively, underpriced parking is bad for everyone, including the drivers who end up wasting time and fuel circling around for a spot because none are available.

“MonkeyParking” isn’t a fix for the problem — it’s a way for people of means to try and circumvent it or cash in on it. One man predicted to KCBS, “You’ll end up with space squatters.” Unlike a city program like SFpark, “MonkeyParking” doesn’t create systemic change because it doesn’t affect a large enough chunk of the parking supply. And none of the revenue goes to the city to improve transportation options.

Others have found different ways to make money off San Francisco’s free on-street parking, including a van owner who rented out his vehicle on AirBnB, effectively turning it into a subsidized hotel.

MonkeyParking’s legality is dubious. Clearly, you can’t reserve the legal right to a parking spot from the previous occupant, but can you fork over $20 nonetheless? A spokesperson for the City Attorney told SFGate it’s being looked into. “So far, all we’ve determined for sure is that it’s extremely weird.”

The app, though, is actually a rational response to the weird and irrational world of parking policy, where Mayor Ed Lee pushes the SFMTA Board to repeal Sunday parking meters, and then people complain about how they can’t find a spot.