New apps make it easier to drive, park in SF

July 3, 2012 8:20:02 PM PDT
Getting around San Francisco can be a big headache, whether you're stuck in traffic or just trying to park. But now, two apps for your mobile phone aim to make your trip around town faster and cheaper.

San Francisco's streets are lined with restaurants, people, and of course cars -- a problem if you're trying to park yours. After almost an hour circling North Beach without finding a single spot -- Neha Sampat came up with KurbKarma.

"KurbKarma is a social network for parking that helps you find parking where and when you need it, in cities like San Francisco," said Sampat.

She and her co-workers demonstrated it for us. Just open the free app on your smartphone, and tell it where you need a spot. Other users who have a parking space, but are about to leave can offer you theirs.

"And they make an exchange. And the person who leaves actually gets an incentive called a 'KarmaKredit,'" said Sampat.

You get one credit for every space you give up, but you have to spend two credits to get someone else's space. Why the imbalance? Well, for the system to work, they need more people offering spaces than taking them. In fact, they want you get in the habit of always offering your space.

"Just like you might check in on Foursquare when you walk in, we want you to check out on KurbKarma when you walk out," said Sampat.

Once you do drive off, look around your car. Odds are you're the only person in it.

"Right now, drivers, they drive by themselves all over the place," said Sunil Paul, the Sidecar CEO.

However, Paul's company wants to change that with another social app called SideCar that matches up those solo drivers with people who need a ride.

"We've only been testing for four months and in that short amount of time we've already had 10,000 rides," said Paul.

We got two SideCar users to show us how it works. The smartphone app finds your location and asks where you're going. It alerts a nearby driver and if he's going the same way, he can agree to pick you up.

Based on how far you drive, the app suggests a donation, which you can pay to the driver by credit card. It's voluntary and often much less than a taxi.

"It definitely replaces both taking a cab and taking a bus, it's just probably the most convenient thing I've found," said Holly Kinzell, a SideCar passenger.

And for some drivers like Eric Janson, it's a way to turn your free afternoon into some extra cash.

"It can average from as little as maybe $50-60 to maybe $120 if you're driving more hours," said Janson.

But SideCar's getting a lukewarm reception from the San Francisco MTA. They're concerned it's an unlicensed taxi service, skirting around all the city's taxi laws that are designed to keep people safe. SideCar's CEO insists those laws don't apply.

"We're operating under rules created for ridesharing and carpooling. So those are state level regulations," said Paul.

The critical distinction is if the passenger chooses how much to donate, if anything at all. Paul adds they do background checks on everyone who signs up to drive.


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