VCs Find Space to Park Capital

About 30% of city traffic is caused by people driving around looking for parking.

That’s an estimate by the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency (SFMTA). As a car-owning San Franciscan, I have to say it sounds about right.

It’s also a favorite statistic of Zia Yusuf, newly hired CEO of Streetline, a Silicon Valley-based startup that has a vested interest in the plight of urbanites and their parking issues. Streetline, which sells a sensor-based system to track parking space information, has raised $3.7 million since 2006 from Sutter Hill Ventures and other backers, according to Thomson Reuters (publisher of peHUB).

Now it’s show time. Under a deal with the SFMTA, Streetline is installing about 9,000 sensors in city parking spaces, Yusuf told attendees at this week’s IBM Smart Camp startup competition. (Streetline shared first place with medical records startup CareCloud.)

San Francisco, meanwhile, is telling residents to expect some changes in the local parking scene. These include incrementally lower or higher rates depending on demand and, in a shocking bow to modernity, meters that will accept card payments along with coins.

Much of this is nothing terribly new. Death-to-coin-operated-meter stories have been a journalistic staple since, well, probably since the first coin-operated meter was installed in Oklahoma City back in 1935. And modernized meters that accept cards have been around for at least a couple decades.

But, to look at recent startup and venture funding activity, it’s clear something is going on in the parking sector. In addition to Streetline, at least four other parking-focused companies have raised VC rounds in the past few years, according to Thomson Reuters. App developers have also been active in the space, including Google, which this summer launched Open Spot, an experimental Android app to help drivers find parking spaces on a map.

Other venture-funded companies in the parking “space” include:

  • ParkingCarma, which has raised $1 million in 2007 from Michigan Pre-Seed Capital Fund and others to build out a “smart parking” system to bring together people looking for parking spots with parking structure owners and managers.
  • Park Assist, of Sydney, Australia, which provides wireless vehicle detection technology to improve the ease of car parking. It raised has raised $8.4 million in debt and equity financing since 2008 from backers including Jolimont Capital.
  • Parcxmart Technologies of Hampton Falls, N.H., which raised $5.5 million between 2005 and 2008 to develop electronic payments systems targeted to municipal parking and local merchant communities.
  • And T2 Systems, a provider of parking management software, which raised $3 million three years ago from Petra Capital Partners.

Cities are also increasingly embracing “smart parking” projects. Among them is Brooklyn, N.Y., a borough that, at least according Yusuf, sorely needs a better solution. There, he says, once study found that 45% of traffic is caused by people driving around looking for parking.