A Boston City Council committee held a hearing today to consider a provision that would effectively ban parking app Haystack from operating within the city. The proposed ordinance would prohibit the “selling, leasing, or reserving of public ways.”
Haystack doesn’t actually sell parking spaces, but it does enable users to buy and sell spaces from each other for a fee. Haystack, in turn, pockets a quarter of every transaction. The app, started in Baltimore, began operations in Boston last month with a launch party at the posh West End Liberty Hotel.
The Council’s proposal is a direct response to Haystack’s introduction to the Hub, which was met with considerable controversy for its exploitation of public property for private profit.
Haystack Founder and CEO Eric Meyer appeared before the Councillors to make the case for his business, but received a cold reception, with one Councillor suggesting he shut down the service preemptively.
Meyer – ever the media savvy tech entrepreneur – knows how to frame issues in Haystack’s favor. He declared that, if passed, the ordinance “sends an ominous message” to technology start-ups that might have a chilling effect on entrepreneurship.”
“A vote in support of this proposed ordinance and this time is a vote against technology, against innovation.”
Those in favor of the proposal derided Meyer for portraying them as anti-innovation luddites. Councillor Timothy McCarthy said, “This is not about information sharing; this is about cash.”
“So when you talk about God’s work and helping the city address its parking problems, put that to rest.”
Councillor Frank Baker, who introduced the measure, also chimed in: “You’re trying to make us out to be anti-innovation. If it’s a good idea, and it’s not infringing on something the city owns, we’re all in. But I just have a hard time with trading city spaces that aren’t yours.”
Haystack’s fate will be decided next Wednesday when the full Council is expected to vote on the issue.
As for my personal opinion, I agree with the Councillors. Nobody should profit from public space, period. The idea behind Haystack is great. A better way to bring innovation to parking would be to create a solution in partnership with municipal authorities. City governments are always going to be less responsive than the private sector, but public property should be administered for the public good.
If Haystack was indeed “parking by the people,” it would be non-profit and accessible.