LA Has Enough Parking Spots for All of Manhattan. This Startup Wants to Make it Easier to Find.
Though Los Angeles drivers might spend hours per week searching for parking, the truth is that the city actually has an abundance of parking spaces. In fact, according to one study, L.A. has enough parking spaces to cover all of Manhattan.
Alex Israel, CEO of Venice-based Metropolis Technologies, decided it was time to make use of more of that space for purposes other than storage of inactive vehicles. It’s perhaps a surprising point of view, considering Metropolis is the developer of an automated payment platform for parking facilities.
However, Israel said the technology offered by Metropolis will make parking more efficient, eliminating the need for excess spaces that go unused for most of the day.
“[Parking] is never the highest and best use for land,” said Israel. “Lots of that land can be repatriated by the community, for parks and for community centers.”
Israel said space that remains in use for parking could in the future become much more actively utilized, as more electric and autonomous vehicles and micromobility devices hit the market.
“Think about the cleaning, servicing, charging and deployment [of vehicles],” he said. “Someone will need to convert the infrastructure to empower all future modes of mobility.”
Rethinking Parking's Use of Space
How does Metropolis fit in with all this? The company’s technology allows drivers to access parking facilities without obtaining a ticket or paying at a booth or kiosk. Vehicles registered in the company’s database can simply go in and out; the owner’s credit card is charged automatically.
For most users, the system’s appeal will mainly be its convenience. But Israel said the real-time information gathering necessary to make the payment platform usable will be a tremendous asset to parking lot owners and operators, who can get a better sense of how to maximize the value of a given parking facility.
“We look at a [parking] facility and we say, ‘it’s only occupied 35% of the time; how do we fill it?’” said Israel. “Maybe we can deploy vehicle charging [stations] or micrologistics or the staging of vehicles for a delivery service.”
Israel said that parking lots and garages are ideal locations for such uses. A major obstacle to that vision is property owners, who currently have no way of knowing the capacity of specific lots in real time. With a database of parking structures constantly being updated with information about available space, Israel said Metropolis is in a position to facilitate more efficient uses of these facilities by sharing occupancy information with a wide range of potential users.
To that end, the company last month announced a partnership with Uber Technologies which will allow users of the Uber app to enter their license plate information in order to park at garages that employ Metropolis' platform.
Israel said Metropolis is pursuing similar arrangements with a wide range of partners—from scooter companies to delivery services—in order to ensure facilities are being used to maximum potential.
Pointing to studies showing that drivers cruising for parking constitute as many as one-third of all drivers on the road in urban areas, Israel said that making parking facilities more efficient and visible to car owners could also alleviate traffic congestion by making it easier and more convenient to pull into a lot or garage rather than circling around looking for street parking.
Democratizing Parking Data
Juan Matute, deputy director of the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies, said the most straightforward way to cut down on congestion is by ensuring fewer cars are on the road in the first place. Still, he notes that new technology like that offered by Metropolis has a role to play in eliminating some of the most obvious and wasteful impracticalities associated with parking.
“These apps are addressing the issue where you only know about parking you can see,” said Matute.
In dense areas like downtown Los Angeles, a parking spot can feel impossible to locate. In fact, Matute said, parking in the area is abundant, but much of it is concealed in garages where pricing varies considerably.
“From the street you can’t see onto level five of a parking structure,” said Matute. “This contributes to a perception of scarcity. Even if 70% of spaces in a district were available, if all the on-street parking and the first floors of lots were full, it could make someone think ‘oh, there can’t be any parking'.”
If real-time occupancy data and pricing information from parking facilities was widely available, it could make drivers more likely to fill spots that are now underutilized due simply to the fact that drivers don’t know about them.
Matute said making parking facilities more convenient for drivers to access could also make it possible to convert more on-street parking to other uses, like outdoor dining, curbside pickup and delivery and bike and scooter storage.
“Those are great uses for on-street spaces,” said Matute. “The urban planner’s dream is to have all that in the curb zone, and put any car that’s staying more than 15 minutes off-street.”
In order for this to work in practice, however, parking and transportation apps must be able to offer a wealth of information to drivers, Matute said. For Metropolis, that means ensuring its platform is used in as many parking facilities as possible.
Israel said the company’s technology is already being used in close to 300 locations, and agreements are in place for it to be adopted at 600 facilities nationwide.
That’s far from ubiquitous, but the company only publicly launched in February, after spending a little over three years in stealth mode. With more than $60 million raised to date, Israel said the focus for the company is now on scaling up and expanding to new locations.
There may be some growing pains along the way. In November, Los Angeles Times columnist David Lazarus criticized the company’s user data collection policies outlined in its app and speculated that the startup’s eventual aim could be to sell valuable user location and browsing data to advertisers.
Israel said Metropolis collects user data necessary for the functionality of its service and that drivers do not have to download the app in order to park at facilities using its payment platform. The company does not sell user data to advertisers and has no plans to do so, he added.
Instead, said Israel, Metropolis generates revenue through contracts with parking lot owners and through collection of service fees charged at some facilities.
Israel said this will continue to be the company’s business model for the foreseeable future, as it looks to continue bringing new facilities into its system in the year ahead.
“This has been a massive year for growth,” said Israel. “It’s really such an exciting time to be part of the mobility landscape.”
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It started out as a way to relax after work.
On the episode of Behind Her Empire, JIGGY founder and CEO Kaylin Marcotte talks about how she turned her fascination with jigsaw puzzles into a thriving business.
Marcotte worked at the digital media company theSkimm, managing their brand ambassador program and grassroots marketing divisions, among other areas. The workload was overwhelming, she said. She looked for something meditative to relax her after work and stumbled onto jigsaw puzzles. Completing one helped reduce stress.
But the designs weren't great. Instead, she started experimenting with making puzzles of female artists' work, creating JIGGY in 2019.
"Given that they were real pieces of art, we decided to include puzzle glue so you could keep it when you were done and frame it or display it as an art print," said Marcotte.
Marcotte landed an appearance on ABC'S "Shark Tank," where she raised $500,000 from billionaire Mark Cuban. She grew the startup to $1.6 million in sales within its first nine months, making a point to pay her artists -- who get a share of the revenue of their puzzles -- on time.
"We work with our artists. It's baked into the business model that we do percentage of sales," she said.
Click the playhead above to hear the rest of the episode, in which Marcotte offers some lessons she learned building her company and how she navigated the pandemic.
dot.LA Audience Engagement Intern Joshua Letona contributed to this post.
Yasmin is the host of the "Behind Her Empire" podcast, focused on highlighting self-made women leaders and entrepreneurs and how they tackle their career, money, family and life.
Each episode covers their unique hero's journey and what it really takes to build an empire with key lessons learned along the way. The goal of the series is to empower you to see what's possible & inspire you to create financial freedom in your own life.
When Darien Williams and Melanie Wolff opened Brella, their Montessori-inspired childcare center, in Playa Vista in 2019, they were inspired by the likes of WeWork and SoulCycle, which had multiple locations and easy-to-use apps for scheduling meetings and workout sessions. The pair found that parents juggling hectic day jobs with their children’s preschool schedules were drawn to a tech-enabled, more flexible way to schedule childcare for their kids.
“The current system can be really punitive to [parents] because it forces them to pay for and schedule childcare that they don't always need, or to schedule childcare that doesn't actually support the workdays that they need to have," Wolff told dot.LA.
Months later, the coronavirus pandemic forced Brella to shut down. But rather than shuttering their company for good, the co-founders saw that the pandemic’s new work-from-home paradigm only exacerbated the need for flexible childcare options. Brella reopened in June 2020, and today serves roughly 400 families whose kids, aged 3 months to 6 years, attend the Playa Vista facility for an average of four-to-five hours a day and twice per week.
On Tuesday, Brella announced a $5 million seed funding round that will allow the startup to open more facilities—it plans to expand to Hollywood and Pasadena by the end of this year—and improve its technology. The funding was led by Newport Beach-based Toba Capital and Brentwood-based Halogen Ventures, and takes Brella’s total amount raised to date to $8 million.
Brella’s Playa Vista-based childcare center lobby.
“What we found is that even pre-pandemic, and now especially post-pandemic, families' work lives are really dynamic; they're not always working this 9-to-5, Monday-through-Friday kind of role,” Wolff said. “Sometimes their childcare needs can vary day-to-day, week-to-week, and even month-to-month.”
Brella is part of a growing industry of childcare startups leveraging technology to help families find childcare solutions. Its ranks include San Francisco-based Wonderschool, which helps families start their own preschools or daycares, and New York-based Otter, which allows parents to crowdsource babysitting resources from other parents.
Through Brella’s app, parents can create a profile, upload necessary forms and documentation, and book times to drop their children off at the childcare center for a minimum of three hours. Brella offers different pricing packages depending on how far in advance parents want to schedule childcare and how often they need it.
As a licensed preschool, the curriculum that Brella teaches its pupils is inspired by progressive child development philosophies like Montessori, RIE and Reggio Emelia. The curriculum is adapted to how much time each child spends at the school; Brella’s educators create “projects and learning opportunities that can engage a child that might be here for the very first time, or is coming three days a week this week and five days a week next week,” Williams said.
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Keerthi Vedantam is a bioscience reporter at dot.LA. She cut her teeth covering everything from cloud computing to 5G in San Francisco and Seattle. Before she covered tech, Keerthi reported on tribal lands and congressional policy in Washington, D.C. Connect with her on Twitter, Clubhouse (@keerthivedantam) or Signal at 408-470-0776.