Trying to park your car in Barcelona is nothing short of a calvary. Did you know that 20% of city traffic is caused by drivers circling around trying to find a parking space? It’s detrimental to the environment, it’s a debilitating factor in the city’s mobility and it takes a toll on our mental health too. However, the picture doesn’t have to be so grim: a Barcelona startup has created a parking app to take the pressure off the roads and help all these dizzy drivers find cheap parking spots quickly. But can a parking app contribute to solving the city’s mobility problems? Jaume Mayor, CEO of wesmartPark shares everything we need to know about parking in Barcelona, what’s causing the issue, and how his team is working on doing something about it.
Parking in Barcelona: The Problem
Jaume likes his numbers, and he knows them well. He revealed to me the staggering data that proves just how big of a problem parking is in Barcelona. Let me try to sum it up.
Each day, Barcelona sees 900,000 car trips. The majority of car trips – 64%, to be exact – are for work.
Most people who use cars daily to get from A to B are commuters coming from outside the city. They choose to go by car for two main reasons. Either because they would have to take more than two means of transport to get to the city center, or because their car functions as a tool that they need for their jobs (think of a handyman or someone who works in delivery). The former usually park their car in the morning and pick it up in the afternoon, the latter may drive around the city throughout the day and park in several different locations.
And here’s one of the main reasons for the extreme inefficiency in car mobility.
20% of the city’s traffic is caused by people searching for parking places.
Try to picture that. When you’re driving down a street in Barcelona, out of all the other cars around you, every fifth one has already arrived at its destination. They’re just driving in circles around the block trying to hunt down an empty parking space, or snag one from an unsuspecting driver who’s about to leave. They do this until they finally give up and drop their car in a paid parking garage that’s going to cost them an arm and a leg.
The problem: there are hardly any available parking spaces, and parking is ridiculously expensive.
Current mobility policies are not solving the issue. Bicing may be a great alternative for public transport, but the rattling red-and-white bikelings are definitely not tempting people to get out of their cars.
So what’s the solution? If we can’t reduce the number of cars in the city, shouldn’t we start building more parking lots? Jaume says no.
Parking in Barcelona: The Solution
There are already more than 700,000 parking spaces altogether in Barcelona. 500,000 of those are off-street, private parking spaces, which means that they are closed to the public. And the majority of these places are empty during work hours, when the demand for parking is highest. According to Jaume, there’s no need to create more parking spaces because they’re already there. They’re just not being used. He believes that opening these underused parking facilities could solve the city’s parking issues – and this is exactly what he’s working on with his startup wesmartPark.
Here’s how it works. You download the parking app. You ask for the free parking sticker that opens doors (literally and figuratively). You book a spot in a private parking garage nearby, and park for half the price that you would pay for traditional parking. You pay online, by the minute. And just like that, you’re saving time, money and your nerves, and you’re part of what Jaume calls the “parkvolution”.
Sounds smooth. But how does Jaume secure all these private parking spots for wesmartParkers to use?
At first, Jaume tried to convince individuals to rent out the private parking spaces that they own. However, he soon realized that this was nearly impossible.
In order to make his system work, he needs to install an antenna in the door to the parking, and put sensors in each parking spot. Then, a simple sticker on the car’s windshield will open the door completely seamlessly (no keys involved), you don’t even have to slow down. The thing is, it’s extremely difficult to get each and every person who owns a spot in the shared garage on board. And their approval is needed to install the system that opens the door.
So instead, he started focusing on working with businesses, like hotels and property developers, and opening real estate parkings to drivers who use the app. At the same time, he’s giving the owners of these parking spaces a chance to earn good money (much more than if they were renting out their parking spaces on a monthly basis, for example).
Is This Solving the City’s Mobility Problems?
“I don’t want to solve the city’s mobility issues by decreasing the use of cars. I want to make the use of cars more efficient.”
Jaume is aware that his approach to helping to solve the city’s mobility issues can be subject to criticism.
By making it easier to park, isn’t he encouraging people to use their cars?
In a way, yes. But his goal is to make the use of cars more efficient, not more difficult.
“I don’t want to solve the city’s mobility issues by decreasing the use of cars, like banning cars from the center or taxing them. I want to make the use of cars more efficient,” Jaume says.
And what about the environmental implications of making parking easier and more accessible?
According to Jaume, this is just the first step. He’s taking the effort to solve the city’s mobility issues even further by offering to install electric car chargers at the parking spaces that bring the most revenue, to promote electrical mobility and encourage the switch to electrical cars.
“There are several different approaches to solving a city’s mobility problems. Ours is one of them. And the sum of these approaches provides the solution,” he says.
With a viable business plan and no real competitors (there are no other online parking providers that offer off-street, private parking spaces, paid by the minute, alternating between drivers), he has a good chance of driving the change in mobility that will eventually lessen the burden on the city’s shoulders.
Even though Jaume does not like to be associated with the fashionable “sharing economy” movement, he is taking part in creating new habits that are revolutionizing the way that we consume. With wesmartPark, he’s contributing to the proliferation of online on-demand services – instead of looking around on the street, people are now looking at their smartphones to try to find a parking space.
Plans for the Future
With thousands of parking spots in not just Barcelona, but Madrid, Santiago de Chile and New York City, wesmartPark is changing the parking habits of more and more people every day. And the big challenge for Jaume and his team right now is to make the real estate industry, the second biggest industry in New York City, realize that there is a huge opportunity in renting out parking spaces through their platform.
And like they say: if they can make it there, they’ll make it anywhere.