Photo by rockcreek on Flickr.

A Baltimore company called Parking Panda has built an iPhone app that might change the way some Washingtonians find parking by directly connecting owners of unused parking spaces with those seeking to park.

The concept is simple. The owner of a parking space goes to ParkingPanda.com, where they create an account and describe the details of their space. They select when the space is available, where it’s located, and how much they charge for its use.  The owner can also upload photos. After that, the phone app lists the space as available.

Drivers looking for parking can then use their iPhone to locate the nearest parking spaces available.  Users select a space, pay, and then receive a map and real-time directions to their space, all via the app. They say the secure transaction takes less than a minute to complete.

Parking Panda was co-founded by Baltimore residents Adam Zilberbaum and Nick Miller. They won a local business development competition to develop the app, and have been building its technology and user base ever since.

The impetus behind the app was a simple idea. Co-founder Nick Miller says in a phone interview, “at some point and time we all have needed a parking spot and couldn’t find one.”

Parking Panda hopes to solve that problem by making private parking spaces available to public users, in exchange for a fee set by the owner of each space. Parking Panda takes up to a 20% cut on the cost of the space for providing the service.

If a homeowner will be out of town for a few days, they can rent out their alley parking space rather than have it go to waste. Owners can even rent out spaces on an hourly basis during the day, while they are at work. Once a user reserves a space, the owner gets an email notification.

Many condo and apartment building garages don’t allow owners to rent out their parking spaces because access to the garage is limited by keycards or an access code. In cases like this, Parking Panda would require the owner to find a way to grant the renter access.

Miller says Parking Panda needs at least 30 spaces registered before they come to the District.  “We have to have spaces before we have customers,” he added. They will start their service in DC as soon as they get to 30 spaces.

Parking Panda unveiled its service in Baltimore during the Grand Prix race, and managed to offer parking for over 150 cars.  Since then the numbers have increased, and eventually they hope to make a dent in Baltimore’s and ultimately the District’s parking challenges.

Parking Panda is currently only available for iPhone. They do plan to roll the service out to Android users, but have no time frame for that yet.

If Parking Panda or another market succeeds and has a meaningful impact on the parking market, how might it change cities? The region already devotes a large portion of its land to parking cars. Every car used for commuting requires at least 2 spaces: 1 at home and 1 at work or a transit station.

Most of the time, 1 of those spaces is empty at all times. Office spaces are empty at night, and suburban residential spaces during the day. Parking Panda makes it easier to share these spaces. If someone works near some residential rowhouses, he or she can park in those spaces while the homeowners’ cars are parked at offices.

This strengthens the argument for reducing parking minimums, in particular. Traditional minimum parking requirements assume that each building’s parking will only serve that building, during the hours it’s in use, and be empty otherwise. DC’s zoning rewrite will allow some shared parking, but only with formal agreements between 2 establishments that can demonstrate that they use parking at different times.

Tools like Parking Panda could show how a city’s parking can function effectively even without these assumptions, and reduce the need to build more parking in the future.

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Reginald Johnson is a transplant to the Washington, D.C. area.  He writes for Examiner.com, a international media agency, and additional freelance.  He attended the University of Central Arkansas. All views expressed here are his alone.