It would seem there are limits to how "smart" cities are willing to be after San Francisco this week banned a mobile app that lets people sell remaining time on their parking spaces to the highest bidder.
On Monday the city’s attorney, Dennis Herrera, sent a cease-and-desist letter to Rome-based tech firm MonkeyParking, threatening it with a lawsuit unless it shuts down operations in San Francisco by July 11.
Herrera’s letter to MonkeyParking CEO Paolo Dobrowolny cited a provision of San Francisco’s Police Code that prohibits people from buying, selling or leasing public on-street parking. It warned that the company could be subject to civil penalties of up to $2,500 per violation if the city sued.
San Francisco and nearby Silicon Valley may be the cradle of digital civilisation, but the MonkeyParking ban is the latest outbreak of friction between it and the analogue world’s rules and interest groups. Two other parking apps based on selling access to public space also face legal action. The city’s taxi industry has opposed ride services such as Uber and Lyft, while housing advocates complain about vacation rental companies like Airbnb.
"Technology has given rise to many laudable innovations in how we live and work, and Monkey Parking is not one of them," said city attorney Herrera. "It’s illegal, it puts drivers on the hook for $300 fines, and it creates a predatory private market for public parking spaces that San Franciscans will not tolerate."
"Worst of all," he added, "it encourages drivers to use their mobile devices unsafely – to engage in online bidding wars while driving. People are free to rent out their own private driveways and garage spaces should they choose to do so. But we will not abide businesses that hold hostage on-street public parking spots for their own private profit."
The ban will be a blow to MonkeyParking because Rome and San Francisco are the only cities it operates in. CEO Paolo Dobrowolny told GCR that the firm was considering its legal position, but that, in general, some form of regulation would be far better than an outright ban.
"As a general principle we believe that a new company providing value to people should be regulated and not banned," he said. "This applies also to companies like Airbnb, Uber and Lyft that are continuously facing difficulties while delivering something that makes users happy. Regulation is fundamental in driving innovation, while banning is just stopping it."