How parking app SpotHero is preparing for an era of driverless cars

On-demand parking app SpotHero wants to be ready for the day when autonomous vehicles are ubiquitous. Its strategy: target the human-driven car-sharing fleets today.

The Chicago-based company, which has operations in San Francisco, New York, Washington, D.C. and Seattle, has launched a new service dubbed SpotHero for Fleets that targets shared mobility and on-demand services.

The service aims to be a one-stop shop for car-sharing and commercial fleets to handle all that goes into ensuring there is access and the right number of designated parking areas on any given day within SpotHero’s large network of 6,500 garages across 300 cities.

That means everything from managing the relationships between garage owners and the fleet companies to proper signage so car-sharing customers can find the vehicles, as well as flexible plans that account for seasonal demands on businesses.

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Under the new service, customers are able to source and secure parking inventory in high-traffic areas across multiple cities and pay per use across multiple parking facilities on one invoice to streamline payments. 

The service also aims to solve the crux of accessing commercial garages, Elan Mosbacher, SpotHero’s head of strategy and operations, said in a recent interview.

“How does a car get in and out of the garage when the driver driving that car isn’t necessarily the one paying for the parking?,” Mosbacher asked rhetorically. The service provides access to gated parking facilities to provide more pickup and drop-off points for shared cars.

The company’s core competency — its bread and butter since launching in 2011 — has been directed at connecting everyday drivers to parking spots in thousands of garages across North America.

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That focus has expanded in the past eight years, with the company adding other services as urban density has increased and on-street parking has become more jumbled and confused thanks to an increase in traffic, ride-hailing and on-demand delivery services that take up valuable curb space.

“Our platform has evolved as more trends emerge around everything from connected cars to urban mobility apps to fleets to autonomous vehicles more and more companies are reaching out to us about how to leverage our network and our API to service parking from their interface to their audience of drivers,” said Mosbacher.

For instance, just last month, SpotHero announced it was integrating Waze, the navigation app owned by Google, into its app to help customers find the best and most direct route to their pre-booked parking spot. The company has also partnered with Moovit as well as expanded into the corporate world with firms such as the Associated Press, Caterpillar and US Cellular.

SpotHero could continue to scale up with this consumer-focused business model. However, the company saw two overlapping opportunities that center around car-sharing fleets.

In the past year, SpotHero has been approached by a number of autonomous vehicles companies acknowledging that one day they’re going to have to solve parking, Mosbacher said. But these companies aren’t even ready to launch pilot programs.

The company realized there was a use case and an opportunity today for human-driven car-sharing fleets.

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“What we’re doing now is leveraging our network of services, hardware and software to solve a number of business problems around car-sharing fleets we the hope that the technology, infrastructure improves and accelerates to a point when autonomous vehicles are capable of parking using our network,” Mosbacher said.

That opportunity is poised to get a lot wider in the next decade. Deloitte predicts that by 2030 shared vehicles will overtake personally owned vehicles in urban areas. As car-share fleets grow, companies are increasingly tasked with solving for complex parking needs at scale, according to SpotHero.

The company has signed on car-sharing companies and other commercial fleets, although it’s not naming them yet.

The business of parking — and its potential to tap fleets of human-driven and someday even driverless vehicles — has attracted venture funds. SpotHero has raised $67.6 million to date.

And there’s good reason investors and parking app companies like SpotHero are jumping in to “solve parking.” A study by Inrix released in 2017 found that, on average, U.S. drivers spend 17 hours per year searching for parking at a cost of $345 per driver in wasted time, fuel and emissions.

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