BMW: The Ultimate Parking App

Although BMW may be all about the Ultimate Driving Machine, people at the company understand that at some points in the driving experience, people have to park their machines, ultimate or otherwise.

Although BMW may be all about the Ultimate Driving Machine, people at the company understand that at some points in the driving experience, people have to park their machines, ultimate or otherwise.

So big credit has to go to BMW for forming a joint venture company with Urban Mobility, ParkNow, a service that will be launched in September in San Francisco to facilitate parking.

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Why San Francisco? Well, in addition to being at the leading edge of much, there is also a situation wherein there are reportedly about 505,000 vehicles in the city. . .and 448,000 parking spaces available at any given time. And on weekdays, with commuters coming to the city, there are an additional 35,000 cars on the street. It is estimated that about a third of the downtown traffic during a weekday consists of drivers looking for a place to park.

While the cars may be moving, that’s certainly not mobility.

So there is ParkNow, which will be starting next month, which supplements DriveNow, a car-sharing service that BMW operates in San Francisco, offering its ActiveE all-electric vehicles.

ParkNow allows customers to use a mobile app or website to search for parking (there are 14 ParkNow locations in the Bay Area, close to BART, Muni, and bike-sharing stations, as well as at SFO, Oakland International, and down in Palo Alto; partner companies are going to setup more than 100 additional locations soon), then reserve, pay, and be navigated to the selected spot.

When the user books a parking spot, an e-ticket with a QR code is sent to her phone. That code is scanned at the garage going in and out. Payment is automatic, though the user’s ParkNow account. (There isn’t a membership fee; the user is charged only when parking.)

A couple things are notable about this. One is that there is a recognition by BMW that there has to be a systemic view of the car or light truck in the 21st century: it is not just about the vehicle itself, but the vehicle within an infrastructure, so to the extent that this can be improved, the better. Another is that it is clear that an increasing number of people—especially young people—who think that cars are a hassle. Which is not beneficial so far as car companies are concerned. Things like car sharing and using technology to facilitate the driving experience—things that make cars less of a hassle—are going to be beneficial for the car companies who are identified with supporting such things.

And BMW gets it.