is a blog about design, technology and culture written by Khoi Vinh, and has been more or less continuously published since December 2000 in New York City. Khoi is currently Principal Designer at Adobe, Design Chair at Wildcard and co-founder of Kidpost. Previously, Khoi was co-founder and CEO of Mixel (acquired by Etsy, Inc.), Design Director of The New York Times Online, and co-founder of the design studio Behavior, LLC. He is the author of “Ordering Disorder: Grid Principles for Web Design,” and was named one of Fast Company’s “fifty most influential designers in America.” Khoi lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn with his wife and three children. Refer to the advertising and sponsorship page for inquiries.+
There are more important problems in the world than where to park one’s car but in New York City, particularly, a good parking solution can be irrationally satisfying. There aren’t a lot of driveways here, you see, and so New Yorkers are left with painfully imperfect alternatives. There’s street parking, of course, which is free if you don’t get ticketed and cutthroat no matter what. There’s the option of paying for monthly parking in a garage, which in some cases costs as much as renting a place to live. And there’s even buying a dedicated spot, which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars (and are sometimes even pitched as investment opportunities).
If you lack the financial temerity to rent or buy a spot, the on-demand parking service DropCar presents another option. When you don’t need your car for at least several hours, you can use the DropCar app to schedule one of their “personal car concierges” to meet you anywhere within the service’s coverage area and drive your car off to one of their centralized parking lots. When you need it back, you just schedule a dropoff and a concierge will drive it to you and hand the keys back over.
DropCar costs a still-not-insignificant US$349 monthly, but it does let you order ten pickups and dropoffs each month. (The company also offers a parallel service that sends a valet to mind or move your car for US$15 per hour, handy if you have business in a place where there’s no parking. It sounds especially handy for Manhattan and doesn’t require a subscription, but I have yet to try it.) The service is not cheap, but on a recent trip out of town I left my car at long-term airport parking for fourteen days and that alone cost me US$290. That was basically for one pickup and dropoff that I had to do myself—and to and from a particularly inconvenient parking lot. When you consider that DropCar also picks up and drops off at LaGuardia Airport and JFK Airport the service starts to look somewhat more reasonable.
Travel, in fact, is the excuse I’ve allowed myself for trying DropCar. If you lack the financial temerity to rent or buy a garage spot, street parking your car is particularly inconvenient when you’re away from home. Neither my wife nor I use our car to commute (or much during the week, really), so when I’m off on a business trip, as I seem to be a lot these days, the chore of re-parking the car is a burden on her. New York’s extensive alternate side parking rules mean that you can’t leave a vehicle parked in one spot on the street for more than a few days at a time. DropCar allows us to schedule a pickup at the start of my trip and a dropoff when I’ve returned, dramatically simplifying stints of soloing parenting.
We’ve been using the service for several weeks now and it’s been great. On all but one occasion, the valets have been prompt or even early (the one time a valet was late, he texted me well in advance and gladly rerouted to a more convenient dropoff point that was even outside of DropCar’s coverage zone) and they’ve been consistently polite and friendly. Using DropCar’s iOS app is fairly straightforward even if its design and user experience are rough around the edges—the interface looks like a clumsy web interface unetnthusiastically wrapped in a native mobile app. Customer service has also been reliable; responses to my inquiries generally came within a day or two, though apparently from generic mailboxes (they were all written by “Trevor,” a seemingly nonexistent agent).
In fact, I have only one major complaint with DropCar—which, in a way, I’m grateful for. The company boasts parking lots in Brooklyn and the Bronx, and it even allows you to follow the path your valet drives your car on a map view in the DropCar app. Though our pickups and drop offs have all been in Brooklyn, more often than not our car gets driven to the Bronx, some fifteen or so miles away.
This means that we have to be sure to order a dropoff at least an hour in advance (one valet suggested at least two) but more importantly, the distance means a each trip consumes a nontrivial amount of gas and generates a nontrivial amount of pollution. That, combined with whatever small but still meaningful contribution the trips make to traffic congestion in New York City, makes it hard to set aside my nagging conscience: as a service, DropCar makes my life easier, but it’s probably not doing much good for the planet. I find this fact to be something of a relief because, well, it’s a sufficiently concrete reason not to indulge in a DropCar subscription. The service is a great luxury that I would enjoy immensely but I can’t justify the environmental impact let alone the cost.
There’s probably some version of DropCar that makes sense in the near future though, and maybe the company can hang on where other, similar services like Luxe and Zirx have stumbled. When electric cars are the norm then the round trips to the Bronx will be significantly easier to justify for the environmentally minded. On the other hand, if and when our roads are dominated by self-driving cars, it may turn out that valets become moot and every paid parking lot becomes a remote lot; we’ll all just be sending our driverless autos to the Bronx via an app.+