Opinion

The MonkeyParking app could turn us into monsters

Bad inventions: Atomic bombs. New forms of torture. App for monetizing public space for private gain

San Francisco kicked them out of Baghdad by the Bay. Now the controversial app MonkeyParking may face a similar fate in Santa Monica and Los Angeles.  

Bay Area TV station KRON explains how the app works: "If you launch the free MonkeyParking app on your phone and click request a spot, monkey faces pop up. Those are street parking spots near you that other MonkeyParking app users currently have their car parked in but they are willing to sell. You can offer them $5, $10, $15 or $20 for that spot. If they accept, the two of you switch out your cars in the parking spot."

Not since Los Angeles and other cities announced that they would install sensors in on-street parking spaces that would reset the meter to zero when a car pulls out -- depriving the next motorist of the occasional extra few minutes left, and transferring the "extra" cash into city coffers -- has a parking story made my blood boil more. 

Some members of L.A. City Council seem to agree with me.

They’ve proposed a ban on MonkeyParking and similar apps. 

As The Times reported last week, “Councilman Mike Bonin, who asked for the legislation, likened [the MonkeyParking app] to ‘pimping out public parking spots.’

“‘This is not the sharing economy, it's the stealing economy,’ Bonin said. ‘They are taking a public asset and effectively privatizing it.’”  

To paraphrase Elvis Costello, I can't decide whether to be disgusted or amused. On one level, you have to admire the ingenuity of people who figure out a way to use technology to further separate society into haves and have-nots in order to skim a profit. They sure are smart. Like a mad scientist.

On the other hand, there are certain things that, if you come up with them, you should decide not to invent. Atomic bombs. New forms of torture. How to monetize public space for private gain.

As far as I can tell, no one has brought this up yet, but I foresee a public safety threat if this app is allowed to proliferate. I'm a gentle, nonviolent guy, but even I couldn’t guarantee my reaction if I pulled up to a parking space where a dude is sitting in an idling car, clearly ready to leave but refusing to go until his $20 parking app appointment shows up and swoops in ahead of me.

This is especially true if he tries to explain it.

Me: "Who's this guy? I've been waiting for your space."

Idling driver: "This is part of the new 'sharing economy.' Like Airbnb and Lyft. This guy either needed the space more than you or is able to afford it more than you, because he was willing to pay $20 for it. I'm very sorry you're going to miss your job interview or your pitch meeting or your audition or your last chance to visit your dying mother. Life is tough, but $20 is $20.”

But this is a big world and a big city, and there are lots of people who just had a very bad day. Some of them are big and some of them have guns. This can't be a good idea.

Follow Ted Rall on Twitter @tedrall

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