Could Rover, the 'AirBnB of parking,' clash with Toronto bylaws?

A new smartphone app matches Toronto drivers with available parking spaces, but Rover may run afoul of city bylaws.

Smartphone app matches drivers with property owners looking to rent parking spaces by the hour

The Rover parking app matches drivers with parking by the hour on private property. Developers say it could ease congestion but a city bylaw officer said it could also run afoul of existing bylaws. (Rover)

Created by a Toronto developer to match drivers who want to rent unused parking spaces on private property, the Rover parking app has been dubbed "the Air BnB of parking." It's also raised the attention of the city's bylaw officials.

The app allows property owners to post available parking spaces for rent by the hour. Drivers can then search, book and pay for the spaces using their phones. For property owners, the app is an easy way to turn an unused driveway spot into a quick bit of cash. For drivers, it offers another parking option in car-clogged streets and neighbourhoods. 

"I challenge anyone in Toronto to look around and see how much underutilized space there is out there," said co-founder Tim Wootton in an interview Wednesday on CBC Toronto's Metro Morning show. "There are parking spots absolutely everywhere."

The price for parking is set by the user but capped at $2 an hour to ensure spaces stay competitive with traditional parking spots. The developers earn a 30 per cent cut of each transaction, split evenly between the owner and renter.

Wootton developed Rover while working at Ryerson University's Digital Media Zone. 

The app works much like the taxi-sharing service Uber and like Uber, it's raised the attention of city bylaw officials. 

"It's not legal. So I don't think we could enter a discussion about it," said Klaus Lehmann, who works in the city's bylaw office.

Lehmann said it's fine for homeowners without vehicles to rent out the empty space in their garages, but filling a driveway or other space with several cars renting the spots would constitute a commercial parking lot. That could be grounds for a $5,000 fine if the city received a complaint, Lehmann said.

However Wootton said he checked over the bylaws while developing Rover and believes they're in place to prevent drivers from parking on lawns, not on stopping a homeowner from making a little extra money renting a driveway spot for a few hours.

"I don't believe we're tuning [parking spaces] into a commercial lot," he said. "It's just one driveway, it's not 10 different spots."

Earlier this year, the city began allowing drivers to pay for parking at Green P lots using their phone. At the time, Mayor John Tory said Toronto needs to embrace changes an innovations to established industries. "Our role isn't to fight the future," Tory said about the Green P app. "It's to embrace the future."

And while Uber remains under fire from city hall for competing with the taxi industry without following the same regulations, Rover's founders said they don't anticipate the same backlash for parking space rentals. After testing the Toronto marketplace for the next two months, they hope to spread the service across the country.

"If we want to be a world-class city, we need to continue to be innovate," said Wootton. "Companies need to innovate or they won't survive."

With files from The Canadian Press

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