SFU engineering science student Thamer Matar (left) and software systems student Baker Al-Nakib (right) have built an app called OpenSpot, which they are calling the "Airbnb of parking."

This SFU students' app could revolutionize parking in cities

May 24, 2017

By Allen Tung, SFU News

According to IBM’s Commuter Pain study, drivers around the world spend, on average, 20 minutes looking for a parking spot, and 30 per cent of all traffic congestion can be attributed to drivers looking for parking.

But an app and website developed by a team of SFU students is poised to change that. Billed as the “Airbnb of parking,” OpenSpot facilitates communication between drivers looking for parking and parking spot owners.

It allows drivers to find, reserve and pay for parking spaces in private driveways and garages, which are often cheaper than commercial parking lots. Owners list their spot on the app with the times it is available, and set a price.

Baker Al-Nakib, one of the app’s developers and a third-year SFU software systems student, says OpenSpot will give drivers certainty around parking at their destination, wherever it may be.

“It will lead to greater efficiency in how we plan our days and reduce congestion, which will ultimately reduce greenhouse gas emissions from cars idling and driving around finding parking,” he says.

More broadly, the app could recalibrate and maximize parking in neighbourhoods such as Vancouver’s West End, and provide an adequate solution to demand surges around festivals and events such as the Fair at the PNE.

On-street parking demand has outstripped supply in the West End. At the same time, hundreds of parking spaces in buildings are going unused as more residents turn to transit, cycling and car-sharing services.

“One of the solutions the city of Vancouver has identified is to unlock unused parking in buildings,” says Al-Nakib. “We believe OpenSpot can be a solution, helping building managers facilitate the sharing of these parking spaces between residents and visitors to the neighbourhood.”

He adds the app will allow homeowners to monetize their parking spots when they’re not in use, generating extra income for items such as their mortgage, or offsetting their parking costs elsewhere.

OpenSpot launched its app on May 17.  It is available on the App Store for iOS devices and on Google Play for Android devices.

Al-Nakib, who is also a Charles Chang Certificate in Innovation and Entrepreneurship student, credits SFU’s forward-thinking courses for equipping him with the hands-on experience he needed to start a business and properly evaluate it.

Rounding out the OpenSpot team is third-year SFU engineering science student Thamer Matar and Tiana He, an SFU Beedie School of Business alumna. Earlier this year, the team took home the Most Fundable Opportunity prize at SFU’s Opportunity Fest, an annual entrepreneurship showcase.

The University-wide SFU Innovates strategy seeks to help researchers and students such as Al-Nakib, Matar and He mobilize their ideas for positive social and economic impact. SFU’s entrepreneurship and innovation certificate is open to students from all faculties.