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New app aspires to be the Airbnb of parking

New app aims to be "Airbnb of parking"
  • A student's painful daily quest for campus parking led to an app that would let drivers find available spots.
  • ParkStash is a peer-to-peer app that connects drivers to local residents and businesses with spare spots.
  • Besides helping cut auto emissions, ParkStash's co-founders say the app also addresses the "waste of life" problem.

Entrepreneur Sameer Saran remembers wasting hours every week looking for parking when he was a college student at San Jose State University. Some days, it would take him so long to find an available space that he would arrive a half-hour late to class -- despite spending $192 per semester on a parking pass. 

"There are 15,000 students [with cars] competing for around 5,000 parking garage spots," Saran told CBS MoneyWatch. "I was spending 30 minutes just finding a space in the garage when I had assignments and homework to do, even after I had paid for it. That was really stressful for me."

His quest for parking eventually led him off campus, where he observed a number of empty driveways within walking distance of the university. A lightbulb went off: "I realized if these homeowners could share these valuable resources with faculty and students, then we could solve this entire parking problem without having to build more garages," he said. 

In January, he and co-founder Hooman Bolandi launched ParkStash, a peer-to-peer app that connects drivers with local homeowners and businesses with spare parking spots. The approach is modeled on home-sharing app Airbnb's business of connecting travelers to locals looking to rent their homes or even just a bed for the night. ParkStash claims to let drivers secure guaranteed parking at below-market rates, while also giving residents a chance to earn up to $200 a month without lifting a finger.

"Homeowners set their own hours and rates, and drivers can reserve spots ahead of time, which decreases stress levels and time spent looking for a spot," Saran said. Most of its users are based in San Jose, where the app has added nearly 50 spots to San Jose State's limited inventory, but users anywhere can sign up. 

Some area residents have complained that the app compromises neighborhoods' safety by drawing unknown drivers into the area. But Saran argues ParkStash actually improves neighborhoods' security by performing background checks on drivers and hosts, as well as storing users' vehicle and license plate information. 

"Right now, people are illegally selling [parking] permits on Craigslist, so residents already don't know who's coming to their neighborhood," Saran noted.

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Its founders dub ParkStash the "Airbnb of parking" ParkStash

ParkStash also benefits the environment by getting more cars off the road faster, reducing vehicle emissions, Saran said. Citing data from the Environmental Protection Agency, the company estimates that more than 5,000 students consume 61,000 gallons of gasoline, release 541 metric tons of carbon dioxide and destroy 4.4 forest acres every semester just looking for parking. 

ParkStash aims to solve another problem, which Saran and Bolandi call the "waste of life" factor. "We circle around looking for parking when that time could be used for something with a much higher value. It can improve productivity and quality of life and the environment," Bolandi said of the app. "It's all about productivity and giving people back the time they didn't have because they were circling around." 

The pair of founders bootstrapped to build the application and are now seeking a round of seed money to further develop and expand the platform. Around 100 parking spaces are available throughout California, and can be booked at daily, weekly and monthly rates.