Beat the Meter

Parking space-sharing startup looks to expand in Tucson

AirGarage co-founders Jonathon Barkl (left) and Scott Fitsimones want to find you a parking space.
The app allows you to preview your future parking space.

AirGarage, a service that allows users to rent parking spaces around college campuses, plans to expand at the University of Arizona in the coming months.

Created in 2016 by Arizona State University students Jonathon Barkl and Scott Fitsimones, AirGarage works similarly to other "sharing economy" services: People list a personal parking space then renters pay to occupy the spot for a chosen period of time. Customers can browse spaces on the startup's website or app then select what time period they want to rent the space (from a day to a year).

Barkl said AirGarage is seeking homeowners, churches and businesses near the UA that have spare parking spots in parking lots, driveways or garages.

"Our goal right now is to get to a couple hundred spots around the U of A," he said. "We decided Tucson because we know that there's this great community of homeowners that have extra space."

AirGarage already has around 75 parking spaces available near the university, which Barkl said were listed in "a matter of weeks." Available spaces include driveways, small lots and private drives.

"It took us six months to get that many parking spots at ASU, so the response from Tucson homeowners already has been incredible," he said.

The concept of AirGarage was born out of frustration. Then-sophomores Barkl and Fitsimones saw college students running late for exams because they couldn't find parking spaces, and having their diplomas withheld until they paid outstanding parking fines.

"We just thought it was crazy, especially when we were walking through the neighborhoods in Tempe, around Arizona; there's all these driveways just sitting empty," Barkl said. "We thought it was a perfect match to connect these students looking for affordable parking with the homeowners that are gone 9 to 5 every single day anyway."

The parking-space owner lists the time periods available to rent each spot, and so hours vary. The company makes money by charging a 3 percent commission to space owners (for payment processing) and a service fee of around 12 percent to renters.

At the UA, garage passes sell for $692 per year, and specific lot passes cost $581. The school's website acknowledges parking is limited and "unfortunately not everyone will be able to obtain a permit."

Two of Tucson's early AirGarage adopters are Chris Stagg and Heather Newberry, who listed spaces after receiving advertising pamphlets several weeks ago.

Stagg, who lives a block away from the university, listed his parking spot for $40 per month.

"I'd been thinking about renting my garage out before, but I didn't really know where to market it," he said. He hopes to find a renter for the fall semester.

Newberry lives a little farther from campus (nearly an eight-minute walk), and she is asking $35 per month for her parking spot.

"We have a lot of open room in front of our house, and if it's going unused, we might as well be making some money off of it," she said. "So we decided to list our spot so people could use it."

While only 13 rentals have been made in Tucson so far, Tempe has a more established customer base. Kavitha Ramohalli, an ASU student, started using AirGarage when she got tired of paying for an on-campus parking permit.

As a friend of the startup's founders, Ramohalli decided to try it out and said her rental experience was quick, easy and safe.

"It is such an effortless solution to a huge problem that we had on campus," she said.

Barkl said AirGarage, like other services in the sharing economy, is entirely legal.

"We do ask that homeowners and churches...check with their local regulators," he said. "But for the most part, generally speaking, there's nothing in city code that says you can't do this kind of thing."

Both the space owner and the renter sign contracts saying the renter is parking at their own risk. AirGarage works with lawyers to ensure they're always operating within the law. Street parking that requires a city permit is unable to be rented.

"We do not let you rent out property that you do not own, so the only parking spots we allow homeowners to rent out are on private property," Barkl said.

Renters are also welcome to list their unused parking spots, but Barkl suggests they run it by their landlords first.

He expects to see more students renting in Tucson when fall semester gets closer. AirGarage plans to attract customers with online advertising and a free year of parking for the winner of a "parking sweepstakes" held in April.

Moving forward, the business hopes to expand to campuses across the country. They are currently looking at the University of Texas and the University of Wisconsin. But for now, Tucson is the new frontier for this parking innovator.

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Dylan Reynolds is a Kent State University student and a Tucson Weekly intern.

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