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Canton resident creates app for trading parking spots in Baltimore

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When Eric Meyer's car was booted last year after being ticketed one too many times in Canton, he thought, "Man, there must be a better way to find parking."

So, the 24-year-old began brainstorming with friends over pizza and beer at Verde Pizza. They conceived of a smartphone application that would allow neighbors to alert each other to open parking spots, and got family and friends to invest.

On Tuesday night, Meyer will host a Harbor East launch party for the app, called Haystack because "anyone from Canton, Fells Point or Federal Hill knows that finding parking can be like finding a needle in a haystack."

"This could be big," Meyer said. "This could be big for Baltimore and really help solve a major problem."

Haystack, which Meyer said will be available for Apple iOS and Android phones as of Tuesday evening, allows Baltimore residents to see and match up with others in their neighborhood who are either looking for or leaving a parking spot. It even has users input their vehicle type, so it can match like-sized vehicles.

The software, developed by Bethesda-based Digital Management Inc. under a provisional patent held by Meyer, uses GPS to ease commuting headaches and connect nearby users with their friends and neighbors.

"It's kind of like Uber meets Tindr, except you don't get to hook up with your Haystack partner," Meyer said with a laugh, referring to the popular ride share and dating apps, respectively.

To create an incentive for people to use his app, Meyer monetized the transaction. Spot takers pay $3 and spot leavers earn $2.25, with the 75 cents going to Haystack.

In the long run, Meyer — who quit his job at Phillips Seafood Restaurants to work full time on Haystack — said he expects most users of the app will end up with a "neutral" balance, taking a spot one day and leaving one the next.

Those who earn money for leaving spots will be able to keep the money as a balance for the next time they need to pay for a spot, or request Haystack deposit their balance into a bank account, Meyer said.

He declined to say how much capital he and his investors have put into the app, and said he isn't sure yet about potential profit margins. Costs on the front-end will be high, and will probably eat up most of the early revenue, he said.

"With all the sophisticated technology, the push notifications, the real-time GPS we fetch every second, it costs a lot" to run the app, he said.

Paying back his investors will come next.

"I've become a connoisseur of frozen dinners," said Meyer of quitting his day job and needing to cut costs.

Still, Meyer said he is optimistic the app will take off and benefit the city, easing congestion and diminishing emissions by cutting down on people idling and circling the block looking for spots.

He said he sees the app as "a terrific thing for the city," but hasn't spoken with city officials about it.

Peter Little, executive director of the Baltimore Parking Authority, which is responsible for street parking in the city, said his agency could get behind a privately-held app if it makes parking easier, but he would have to hear more about Haystack before forming an opinion on it.

"I'd have to learn more about the particulars, about how this would work, and then sort of examine it — what the possible positive benefits could be, what the possible abuses of it could be, too — before I could say one way or another whether I thought this is a good idea or not," Little said. "It's all new to us. I haven't heard of this particular app."

In fact, Little — who is in the process of choosing a technology contractor to provide the city with pay-by-phone meter parking software — said he hasn't heard of anything like Meyer's app.

"We follow parking news from all around the world, and we haven't heard of an app like this developed, so we haven't even started to think about what the ramifications might be," he said. "This must be a Baltimore thing?"

Indeed. Haystack is launching only in Charm City. For now.

krector@baltsun.com

twitter.com/rectorsun

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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