There may be no better testing ground for a crowdsourced parking app than the Pan Am games, an international event that's catapulted Toronto into commuter chaos.
Rover, which launched July 10 in the Apple Store, matches drivers in the Greater Toronto Area with previously untapped sources of parking, and facilitates the process through mobile payment. It's the latest to join an increasingly crammed marketplace, but Rover co-founder Tim Wootton believes Rover will stand out.
"We're bringing a fresh supply of parking to the market that doesn't exist," Mr. Wootton says. "We're trying to involve the community, work with community events to find alternate parking and make sure they go off smoother, whether that's three free spots behind a small business or an apartment."
Drivers choose where they need to park, and Rover's interactive map notifies them of available spots, along with information on price and when it's available.
Like most of the competition, Rover uses technology that allows secure payment to be split among two or more parties and takes a small cut of each transaction from both the driver and parking-spot provider. Rover is one of a handful of local companies to try out Stripe, a U.S. mobile payment app that recently initiated a beta launch in Canada. Mr. Wootten says Rover also hopes to offer Apple Pay later in 2015.
Once drivers have locked down a parking space, the spot's owner receives a notification with the car's licence plate and purchase time. Owners can choose when they'd like to open a spot for sale, whether it's a nine-to-five weekly block, or a brief window on a Tuesday morning, and turn the spot "on" and "off" with a simple switch built into the app.
Mr. Wootton says he and co-founder, Grant Brigden, have designed the process to put as much control as possible into the user's hands, a level of trust that has worked for shared marketplace juggernauts like Airbnb and Uber.
Drivers that go over their allotted time get a warning for the first transgression, but will be privy to negative reviews for subsequent bad behaviour. The same goes for spot owners. Inconsistency and bad manners can sink a user's reputation and lead to loss of income.
"That's what the shared economy has been incredible at doing so far. It's almost brought back respect amongst strangers; the understanding that people – for the most part – are pretty respectful," Mr. Wootton says.
Mr. Wootton and Mr. Brigden hope the drive to be decent, and make a little cash on the side, will push their parking app to the head of the pack.
That's why the main anchor in their community initiative rollout is a sobriety program called "Rover till you're sober," which allows drivers to leave their car overnight for free and use the money to take a cab home instead. And true to their name, Rover allots a portion of its revenue for animal-care organizations in the city.
"It's a huge part of our go-to-market strategy and our brand and what we're trying to accomplish, which is to make those communities a better place. You wouldn't think parking could do that directly but we think we can accomplish that."
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