App-based startup connects Seattle-area commuters with unused parking spaces

  • TECH
  • Thursday, 31 May 2018

Parking for consul vehicles is reserved outside One Union Square, the downtown Seattle building that houses the Russian consulate on the 25th floor, Monday, March 26, 2018, in Seattle. The United States and more than a dozen European nations kicked out Russian diplomats on Monday and the Trump administration ordered Russia's consulate in Seattle to close, as the West sought joint punishment for Moscow's alleged role in poisoning an ex-spy in Britain. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

When Helene Costa moved to Seattle with her husband in 2013, she noticed something about their new apartment building near Seattle Centre. 

Most of the parking spaces were empty. She didn't think much of it. She'd never owned a car in Paris. 

But it stuck in the back of her head for two years until she happened upon a statistic from an old IBM study: About 30% of cities' traffic emissions come from cars circling for parking. 

“I connected the dots,” Costa said. “I'm sure we could do better.” 

The next year she co-founded GarageHop, a Seattle-based startup that connects commuters looking for parking with residential buildings that have spaces to spare. 

GarageHop contracts with apartment buildings to lease out excess parking spaces. Drivers then sign up online, pay a monthly fee and unlock the garage with a smartphone app. GarageHop and the building owner both get a cut of the revenue, although Costa declined to specify the breakdown. 

As many as 40% of parking spaces in multifamily buildings in King County may be going unused, according to a 2015 study by King County Metro. 

“We help building owners increase their property income substantially by using an asset that they are not using,” Costa said. “On the other side we're helping Seattleites cut the frustrating time they have in their car when they're looking for a parking space.” 

Seattle's recently passed law changing parking regulations – intended to make it easier to build housing without parking while making better use of existing parking – allows services like GarageHop to operate in more parts of the city. 

Previously, apartment-building owners could rent out their excess parking spaces to non-residents, but only downtown and in other commercial zones. The new law lets building owners in most neighbourhoods with multifamily housing rent out their excess parking spots as well. 

GarageHop currently leases spaces in four residential buildings in Seattle and one in Kirkland, right next to the South Kirkland Park-and-Ride. At $80 a month, leasing a GarageHop space costs a lot more than the free park and ride, but it does offer a guaranteed spot. The park and ride's 800-plus spaces almost always fill up. It was 97% full in 2017. 

GarageHop isn't the only business offering such services. 

WhereiPark leases monthly spots at 21 locations in Seattle and seven on the Eastside. 

And Diamond Parking last year partnered with King County Metro to lease parking spaces in lots and garages near busy transit lines. That program, with 15 different parking sites throughout the region, was launched with a US$543,000 (RM2.16mil) federal grant. 

Seattle and neighbouring cities have longstanding policies of reducing the number of people who drive alone to work. Increasing the availability of monthly parking is not the way to do that. Research shows that one of the most effective ways to discourage drive-alone commuting is to charge for parking by the day, rather than by the month. 

Costa, who previously worked on climate-change issues for the French Department of Sustainable Development, said that they're working hard to offer parking near transit hubs and park-and-ride lots, like the site in Kirkland. 

“We do not need more parking, on the contrary we need less, but we need our parking inventory to be smart,” she said. “We will need them clustered in strategic locations.” — The Seattle Times/Tribune News Service

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