Montreal parking app looks for a spot in Ottawa

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CityParking is an Uber-style app that allows drivers to reserve parking in private or commercial lots

By Mario Carlucci, CBC News

A Montreal start-up has its sights set on downtown Ottawa neighbourhoods such as the Glebe to expand its parking business.

CityParking uses an app, similar to Uber, in order to connect drivers with people who want to rent out their residential, commercial or institutional driveway spaces. Owners can rent their spots out by the hour to customers who book up to weeks in advance.

The city doesn't allow the rental of residential driveways unless the rental is part of a tenant agreement, but company founder Amin Dada said he wants to work with municipalities instead of trying to force his way into the market.

Dada said there's a tremendous appetite for parking in the city, especially around the redeveloped Lansdowne Park, where demand for street parking has outstripped supply, especially on CFL football nights.

It's a problem he experienced first-hand, living close to the Bell Centre arena in downtown Montreal.

"I had a prime parking spot, which all of my friends wanted to use and before I knew it I was playing virtual lot attendant for them, scheduling their parking needs," said Dada.

"I also used to drive to other areas and look for parking while so many spots around me were just empty and I couldn't access them because they were private. And I realized that there definitely has to be a way to solve this issue and get parking for everyone at a very cheap cost."

Owner wants app to be regulated

Dada knows there are zoning and bylaw obstacles, but thinks they can be overcome.

"We do want to get regulated in Ottawa … Bylaws are there to protect the citizens but bylaws also need to be revisited when the environment changes around them.

"We are looking forward to getting regulated and becoming part of the system and that's what we're doing in Montreal as well," he said.

CityParking is part of a "smart cities accelerator" initiative in Montreal, said Dada, so the startup was tasked with helping to ease traffic trouble and is being mentored by Montreal's traffic authority.

The company's public relations manager has also reached out to the city of Gatineau's environmental council, to start discussions on bringing the app there.

As for Ottawa, Dada said some driveway owners and drivers have begun to download the app in Ottawa, but he's really looking to get local councillors and politicians on board.

Councillor open to idea

Capital ward Coun. David Chernushenko, who represents the Glebe, says he's happy to look at any innovative approach to improving traffic flow and parking, especially if CityParking is interested in working with the city rather than entering the market and forcing the city to deal with it, the way Uber and Airbnb have done.

"I certainly see the merit of the service and having the debate and would welcome that. I hope it won't be another case of, 'Guess what? I'm doing business. Now try and stop me. Get rid of me,'" said Chernushenko, who adds the city is actually trying to get fewer people to drive to Lansdowne on game nights.

"If what you're saying is 'take your car rather than considering taking transit or considering cycling because now you have a guaranteed spot,' then unfortunately that's actually the opposite of what we want."

Renting driveway to non-tenant not permitted

As for existing zoning bylaws, the city doesn't permit the rental of residential driveways where the rental is not directly associated with the residence itself, such as for tenant parking, according to Lee Ann Snedden, director of planning services.

Moreover, doing so could hit you with a fine of up to $5,000.

And, according to Snedden, merely applying for a zoning change would cost over $15,000.

So, CBC Ottawa asked, if you live near Lansdowne and there is plenty of parking demand in the neighbourhood, is that enough to get your driveway rezoned?

The short answer, from the director of planning services: No.