An App Gives a Heads-Up on Parking Spaces

A new iPhone application hopes to use crowdsourcing to help with an eternal New York problem: How do you find a parking space in New York City?
Members download the application, called Spotswitch, which is free. When a driver is getting ready to leave a parking spot, he or she uses the application to send a geo-tagged alert across the system letting other members know where the newly available parking spot will be. In theory, another Spotswitch member in need of a parking spot can show up before the first car leaves.

The application was dreamed up by Bryan Choi, 35, who was frustrated by the difficulty he had finding parking space in his northern Manhattan neighborhood, Inwood, especially on days when alternate-side parking rules are in effect. A lot of nice people get crazy, said Mr. Choi, who works as a developer for Charles Schwab.

So in his spare time, he spent six months learning how to write an iPhone application and putting it together. (A lot of late nights, he said ruefully.) It was approved by Apple last week, and he plans on rolling it out to other mobile phones.

Technology has often been used to try to tackle the inefficiency of parking, which congests streets and even leads to deaths (as in the case of a 19-year-old who was killed in a fight over a San Francisco parking space in 2006). Another iPhone application, Primospot, gives parking schedule information and garage rates. Roadify uses text messages to help find residents find parking spaces in Park Slope. San Francisco has deployed sensors that alert smartphone users if parking spots become available.

In theory, the application could be used in any city, but Mr. Choi sees the ripest market in New York. He plans a grassroots marketing effort aimed at specific neighborhoods where iPhones are plentiful and parking is scarce: the Upper West Side and Upper East Side in Manhattan, and Park Slope, Dumbo and Williamsburg in Brooklyn.

Im going to go block by block. I have a whole flier campaign, he said. His theory is that the application becomes useful only if it is used by a critical mass of people within a neighborhood. The hope is to build a sense of community.

In the long run, he hopes to charge for the application, and maybe even sell advertising, since anyone who uses it is most likely a car owner in New York City, a potentially marketable demographic. I have a long-term vision, he said. I have a grand vision of how to scale this up.
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