The taxi and hotel industries are still reeling from Uber and AirBnB's arrival, and now Toronto's lucrative sharing economy has found a new target: empty parking spots across the city.
Rover, an app matching drivers with owners' unused parking spaces, launched in the Apple App Store earlier this month, has already been downloaded more than 1,000 times, its founders said. But the City of Toronto is skeptical of its legality.
Co-founder Tim Wootton said the app functions similarly to ride-hailing company Uber. Users who download the app register by typing in credit card and vehicle information. Then, they search a map for parking spots posted by owners with spots that are empty during chosen time slots.
Rover's pricing is capped at $2 per hour to ensure the spots' prices are competitive with street parking and city-owned lots, Wootton said. The developers earn a 30 per cent cut of each transaction, split evenly between the owner and renter.
"We're just really looking for the help of the people who have spots and want to share them and want to make a few bucks, and make it easier for the people who are driving into Toronto," Wootton said.
But while Uber remains under fire from city hall for competing with the taxi industry without following the same regulations, Rover's founders said they don't anticipate the same backlash for parking space rentals. After testing the Toronto marketplace for the next two months, they hope to spread the service across the country.
"We're really looking forward to working with the city," Wootton said.
Co-founder Grant Brigden said Rover is about more than a simple rent-and-park exchange. The app aims to help reduce congestion in downtown Toronto, and is working on an initiative called "Rover till you're sober" to enable free overnight parking.
"Parking relates to your car, your car relates to drinking and driving. So therefore at Rover we can do something to reduce impaired driving," Brigden said.
City officials confirmed they were contacted by the app developers, but suggested negotiations may not be possible.
"It's not legal. So I don't think we could enter a discussion about it," said Klaus Lehmann, who works on the city's zoning bylaws.
Lehmann said it's fine for homeowners without vehicles to rent out the empty space in their garages, but filling a driveway or other space with several cars renting the spots would constitute a commercial parking lot. That could be grounds for a $5,000 fine if the city received a complaint, Lehmann said.
He also disputed the Rover developers' claim that the app helps reduce congestion in the city, saying it merely redirects, rather than reduces traffic.
"It's creative, but unfortunately I think the situation is one where the developer isn't the one who ultimately will take the brunt of the charge, or the fine being levied against them if they're caught," he said. "For them, it's a very limited risk. But the homeowner is taking all the risk."