Parking App Haystack Banned in Boston

BOSTON, MA - 6/04/2014: Amy Coon (cq) from Duxbury looks to her purse to feed the meter in the Financial District of Boston. A proposed smartphone app that would ease paying for parking for thousands of drivers in Boston. Ever had the luck of finding a convenient parking spot on Beacon Hill or in the South End only to find out that you have no more quarters left in your wallet to feed the meter? Soon there will be an app for that. The city's Department of Transportation is conceiving an app that would allow drivers to use their phone to pay for parking spots in the city. Pay by phone parking is popular in Europe and is catching on in the United States, including in such cities as Washington, D.C., and New York. (David L Ryan/Globe Staff Photo) SECTION: METRO TOPIC 05parking(2)
Amy Coon from Duxbury looks to her purse to feed the meter in the Financial District of Boston.
David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

The Boston City Council has passed an ordinance that effectively bans the use of public parking apps like Haystack.

Councilor Frank Baker proposed the ordinance a few weeks ago.Haystack plans to shut down its services in the city following the move.

In a statement from published by The Boston Business Journal, Haystack CEO Eric Meyer seems hopeful the service may find a new use in the city down the road. The statement read in part:

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Haystack will suspend service in Boston this week until further notice in the hopes of engaging with the Office of New Urban Mechanics and local lawmakers to identify a modified approach to parking issues that can be supported by City Hall.

BetaBoston reports city council members acknowledged in banning the app that Boston parking could indeed use some improvement and innovation.

All those who spoke mentioned that the city could do something on its own to leverage technology to improve the parking situation in the city.

Meyer faced the city council last week and said a move to prohibit the app would be a signal from the city against innovation. Mayor Martin Walsh has been critical of Haystack, which has been described on social media as a form of so-called “#JerkTech.” However, prior to the council’s vote Wednesday, there did not appear to be any rules on the book that would outlaw its use in Boston.

On Wednesday afternoon, mayoral spokesperson Kate Norton issued a statement lauding the ordinance.

From the start, the City of Boston expressed significant concerns about any app that would seek to privatize and monetize public parking space. The City Council shared these concerns, and the ban put forth today will protect the interests of the City, our residents, visitors, and businesses, as we seek to ensure equal and fair access to all our public amenities. The City can encourage innovation and undertakes new innovations every day, but we cannot allow for the equal and fair access of public ways to be diminished by private enterprises seeking to profit from or reserve public amenities they do not own or lease themselves, and have no right to profit from or reserve. We support City Council's efforts today, and commend Councilor Baker on his leadership. The Mayor intends to sign this into law when it arrives at his desk.

The app, which began operating in Boston in mid-July with a ridiculous launch party, allows users to tell other users they are leaving a street parking space and accept payment in exchange for the spot. At its core, users are selling access to public parking, though Haystack CEO Eric Meyer has argued they are merely selling information about parking. That argument has limited merit, because users leaving a space do not receive payment until the other user has parked in their place.

Haystack first launched in Baltimore last spring before expanding to Boston a month and a half later. Baltimore officials have not banned the app. One Baltimore city councilor says that’s primarily because they expect it to die on its own.

Pay-for-access parking apps have struggled to gain regulatory traction in other cities. San Francisco has notably moved to shut down similar parking apps, including Monkey Parking.