Parking app sparks chatter

pg06-b-parkingCityParking says its app will reduce cruising for parking spots on busy downtown streets. Kelsey Curtis, Centretown NewsCity representatives have agreed to meet with the founders of CityParking, a parking app that is currently operating illegally in Ottawa.

CityParking, a Montreal-based app that connects parking space owners with drivers looking to rent a prime, downtown parking spot, expanded its operations to Ottawa in November. The app, which operates similarly to Uber, allows driveway owners to post their parking spot when they don’t need it, and lets people driving into the city core book an available parking space ahead of time.

Technically, it is illegal to rent out residential parking spots in Ottawa.

“For residential properties, renting of parking spaces is generally prohibited,” said Lee Ann Snedden, acting director of planning services at the City of Ottawa. “The general requirement under the city’s zoning bylaw is that parking spaces, other than those within a public parking lot or parking garage, must be set aside exclusively for their associated use.”

There are some exceptions to this rule within the bylaw, Snedden said, but to have an exception applied to their spot, property owners would have to apply for a zoning change, which can be a lengthy and expensive process.

“We launched in Ottawa a little over a month ago… and we’ve seen some really healthy numbers there that are growing everyday,” Jessica Mastronardi, manager of public relations at CityParking, told Centretown News in early December.

Currently, the app is focusing on the Glebe specifically, Mastronardi says, because of the high demand for parking spots along Bank Street near Lansdowne Park, including TD Place.

“Right after Lansdowne was done being built, there was a lot of congestion problems,” she said. “There’s not a lot of parking around Lansdowne for all the people who go to Redblacks games or to see Fury play.”

Though the app has had considerable success in Ottawa so far, it has raised some issues since it seems to run contrary to the movement to make Ottawa a less car-centred city.

But this movement was actually one of the ideas that inspired CityParking, Mastronardi said. “We remember Mayor Watson making remarks encouraging people to take the bus in or take their bikes in, so that’s why we decided to target the Glebe area.”

While it is obviously a good idea to use public transit or bike downtown during spring and summer, Mastronardi says, it’s also important to take into account people who live too far from downtown to bike or don’t have access to buses.

“This just gives them the opportunity to book parking ahead of time and cut down on the congestion caused by everybody looking for parking,” she said. “We look at it as just an additional tool that people can use to cut down on congestion on the streets.”

There are good and bad sides to an app like this, said Hans Moor, an Ottawa-based cycling blogger.

“When people have a dedicated spot organized, the number of drivers cruising in vain through a neighbourhood in search for a spot might become lower,” he said. “I could also see this working very well near LRT stations — which, especially when we build LRT phase 2, will likely have more private properties near stations available to rent out. This would allow people to drive to a suburban station, park the car and roll into downtown by LRT.”

On the other hand, making more spots available might also increase traffic into the downtown core, he said.

Pre-booking a parking spot is actually a very effective way to cut down on both road congestion and carbon emissions, maintains Mastronardi.

About 10 per cent of the carbon emitted per day is caused by people driving around looking for parking spaces, she said, and if every driver planned their parking spot ahead of time, road congestion would be reduced by about 30 per cent.

The company isn’t looking to cause any problems, Mastronardi says. “We look forward to working with the city, and to look at the regulations and review them and revise them, so that CityParking can operate legally there… and we’ve been told that we can start working with them in the New Year.”