Finding a parking space is a common challenge for drivers in urban centres such as Vancouver, where the cost of parking is high and sometimes unaffordable for students.

That’s why SFU students, Baker Al-Nakib, Thamer Matar, and alumna Tiana He have created an app called OpenSpot to alleviate the cost of parking and free up more parking spaces. OpenSpot functions much like the room-renting service Airbnb, allowing users to temporarily rent out their parking spaces.

“Before we developed OpenSpot, we noticed that car insurance and parking costs are very expensive in Vancouver,” said Al-Nakib, a third-year SFU software systems student. “Therefore, we invented this app to help offset some of these costs to our community members — from a student’s perspective.”

Parking spot owners list their spot, along with a picture, on the app so that drivers can rent out the space in advance. The owners specify the length that the space is leased for — ranging from a few hours to a few months — and the price is settled between the owner and the renter.

The app recommends parking rates that are only 50–60% of the market value, meaning that a typical parking spot in Vancouver that costs $5 to $6 per hour could be rented for $3 to $4 per hour on OpenSpot.

“Currently, in downtown Vancouver, parking rates fluctuate throughout the day depending on how quickly the spots fill up and if it’s rush hour,” explained Matar, an undergraduate systems engineering student. “Whilst homeowners can demand their parking rate with OpenSpot, this rate will stay consistent throughout the day, regardless of the time, venue, and space availability”

When it comes to apartments or condos, where security is a bit tighter, the app “only works for people who live in the same building,” emphasized Matar.

“In a typical apartment, homeowners are only allowed two parking lots, but there are some families that don’t require both parking spaces,” noted Al-Nakib. “With OpenSpot, families with an extra parking spot can rent out their parking space to another tenant in the building, generating income for themselves and giving an extra parking space to families that need it. It’s a win-win situation.”

If a renter has booked a spot, only to arrive and find that another vehicle is occupying it, the app recommends another location nearby for you to park and maintains the rate you agreed to pay at the booked spot for the alternative location, Al-Nakib explained. If owners have a customer that has stayed past their allotted time, the app team will arrange to have the car towed.

The students expressed that they hope to be able to incorporate an element that allows users to split their parking costs, much like the ride-sharing service Uber. However, they “are still not sure of how technically feasible this feature will be on [their] current system,” said Al-Nakib.