Future of transport

New parking app vows to ease Beijing motorists’ search for spaces

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 June, 2015, 11:31am
UPDATED : Friday, 05 June, 2015, 11:32am

A Beijing start-up that aims to digitise the way in which parking spaces are managed and paid for believes it can help drivers frustrated with the capital’s huge shortage of empty lots.

Beijing-based EasyParking is working with a growing network of car park operators in the city so that drivers can find empty lots by speaking to their smartphones and also pay for the service online.

“I’ve spent two hours before driving around looking for a parking space in Beijing. It’s such a pain,” chief executive Frank Liu Wenchao said in a recent interview. “Getting a parking space should be made much easier and more efficient.”

“We aim to make the process a lot smoother, so that users can find a parking space online and even book a space beforehand. They don’t have to stop to pay – everything can be done online automatically,” he said.

Beijing plans to require local car buyers to show proof they have secured a parking space before purchasing a vehicle, as the city battles congestion and pollution.

The capital aims to introduce the rule next year, according to recent comments by deputy mayor Zhang Yankun. If implemented, Beijing will be the first city in China to require parking proof for a vehicle purchase. Tokyo has a similar requirement.

Car-related problems are becoming more of an issue since China emerged as the world’s largest auto market five years ago.

With millions of cars now on the road in tier-one cities like Beijing and Shanghai, local authorities there have introduced lotteries for new registration plates, among other measures to ease growing gridlock.

The problem has been compounded in many Chinese cities as new office and shopping developments draw more traffic to the city centre, meaning that the number of cars often far outnumbers available parking spaces. Cars can often be seen lined up on pedestrian walkways and bicycle paths.

EasyParking received its seed funding valued at several million US dollars from IDG Capital Partners late last year, Liu said, declining to give exact figures.

Users can get real-time information on how many parking spaces there are in a given area, and how much each slot would cost. Reservations can be made, too.

Once a vehicle is parked using the app, a registration plate recognition system installed in partnering car parks would provide verification and start levying a charge.

The company was founded last year. It now employs over 200 people and has teamed up with several large commercial car park operators in office buildings, shopping malls and hospitals whose networks cover about 55 per cent of all commercial parking spaces in Beijing, Liu said.

He said it would take up to six months for the plan to be fully realised.

“As things stand, about 10 per cent of commercial car parks are now accessible on our app, so we’re working very hard to install our services at our partner car parks and also extending our network,” he said.

Residential car parks in Beijing tend to be more fragmented, so it would take a lot more work for the service to cover them, he added.

The company does not generate revenue at present. However, this may change later after it rolls out auxiliary services including valet parking, car cleaning, and driving services when its user base matures, Liu said