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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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Downtown Los Angeles-based HopSkipDrive, a mobility startup that aims to be a kid-friendly Uber service for school-age students, won startup of the year at dot.LA's second annual startup awards.
Winners were announced at the dot.LA Summit. Judges voted for their picks for the most-deserving companies and individuals in six categories, including rising entrepreneur, top rising startup and entrepreneur of the year.
"It's such an honor to be included among all the impressive companies nominated for this award," Katrina Kardassakis, HopSkipDrive's vice president of business operations, said during her acceptance speech. "We are a youth transportation solution on a mission to create opportunity for all through mobility, and so we're focused on serving vulnerable populations, including kids in the foster care system, kids experiencing homelessness and kids with special needs or anyone who needs a little extra care to get where they need to go."
Kardassakis added that HopSkipDrive is currently focused on providing a potential solution to the ongoing shortage of bus drivers across the country, which is leading to backlogs in getting kids to and from school as the transportation industry struggles to retain workers and rebound from the coronavirus pandemic.
Finalists for the 2021 Startup of the Year Award included Universal Hydrogen, a company that's working to make planes that run on clean energy; Long Beach-based Rocket Lab, a reusable rocket manufacturer and small satellite launcher that looks to compete with SpaceX; ChowNow, a commission-free online ordering platform for restaurants and Crexi, a platform for streamlining commercial real estate transactions.
Check out the full list of nominees and winners for dot.LA's 2021 Startup Awards below.
Pivot of the Year: Potion
This award celebrates a startup's ability to revamp by changing its business model and strategy in the face of adversity.
- Potion — Winner
- Struct Club
Social Justice Award: Grid110
This award recognizes a company or individual who has made the biggest impact on driving social justice to create a positive, significant and sustainable impact.
- All Voices
- SoLa Impact
- Hacker Fund
- Grid110 — Winner
Rising Entrepreneur: Krista Berlincourt
This entrepreneur is new in the LA startup scene and has emerged as a forward thinking innovator and leader. Despite his/her age, the Entrepreneur of the year has a pioneering spirit and a promising future.
- Clash App, Brandon McNerney
- Lolly, Marc Baghadjian and Sacha Schermerhorn
- Kona, Sid Pandiya
- Kensho Health, Krista Berlincourt — Winner
- Seed, Ara Katz
Rising Startup: Invisible Universe
Sponsored by TriNet
This startup is less than two years of age from incorporation and has shown major development based on market growth, innovation and impact of products and services. This newcomer has the greatest potential to disrupt its market and global tech community.
- Invisible Universe — Winner
- Launch House
Entrepreneur of the Year: Alex Israel
This entrepreneur has a fearless spirit while their partners, teammates and clients are inspired by their vision on a daily basis. They have made notable achievements this past year in regards to funds raised, sales, impact of product and leadership in the tech ecosystem.
- Heather Hasson and Trina Spear, FIGS
- Cathy Zoi, EVgo
- Alex Israel, Metropolis — Winner
- Dakota Semler, Xos Truck
- Jason Wilk, Dave
Startup of the Year: HopSkipDrive
This company has shown the greatest development over the past year based on innovation and impact with goods and services. This startup has the most promising potential for an exit and potential to reach unicorn status.
- HopSkipDrive — Winner
- Universal Hydrogen
- Rocket Lab
Metropolis CEO Alex Israel said there were times during the pandemic where the startup's future didn't seem certain. On Wednesday, he talked about the last year and the future of mobility during dot.LA and CoMotion's Motivate SOCAL conference, dedicated to highlighting early-stage mobility startups in the region.
Israel's Los Angeles-based startup aims to make parking easy in car-clogged cities across the country. Metropolis uses AI technology to read drivers' license plates as they enter a parking lot, then charges them via an app, giving them a "touchless parking experience."
The startup raised $41 million in Series A financing earlier this year. It has parking garages throughout the U.S., in cities that include Los Angeles and Nashville.
When the pandemic prompted businesses to close their doors and remote working took hold, parking structure demand plummeted.
"I think the net result of that on my business at the time, we're thinking April 2020... Armageddon," said Israel. "I mean absolute chaos, collapse, and panic." But the pandemic didn't dissuade investors. Metropolis raised a $41 million Series A round earlier this year.
COVID may have shut down offices, but it also made the touchless parking process like the one Metropolis offers more appealing to consumers. Owners of parking garages and real estate investors were also drawn to it for its efficiency and low-cost solutions, Israel said.
"Nostalgia for the Future"
Israel thinks Metropolis can create "nostalgia for the future."
"What you see when people use our product is this moment of surprise and delight, and it's this sentiment of, 'Wait, why wasn't it [always] this way? Why couldn't I seamlessly pay for parking? Why did I even have to fumble with tickets?" he said.
Israel argues that dominant industries block this by failing to adopt new technologies. He pointed out the relationship between the archaic taxi industry and the newer rideshare industry as an example.
"I think you see very similar trends within parking. You've had a very entrenched industry that has moved in a very standard way for a very long time, making money in a very standard way," he said. "There are players that are forward thinking and interested in innovation, but in general, the industry as a whole has not been interested in innovation because it's been antithetical to their core business model."
Uber and Lyft's successes have added to the discussion on mobility, he said. And he expects autonomous vehicles to do the same. He thinks prices on the cars will be low, making them a "mass equalizer." He said time will tell whether such vehicles will add to traffic or make transportation faster.
"I think it'll be exciting, but we'll have to wait a long time before we see that true shift, and we see less traffic, and a real, true impact on how we move around cities," he said.
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