The Australian company unlocking parking in city centres
In Australia's most gridlocked city, drivers sit becalmed in another rush-hour jam. Many motorists patiently accept the will of Sydney's fickle traffic gods, while others are steaming, their faces red, knuckles white and language X-rated.
But reaching the city, or one of its satellite business districts, is often only part of the battle for the road weary. Finding somewhere to park can be another source of frustration altogether.
Five years ago, Nick Austin quit his job in the finance industry to launch Divvy Parking.
He, too, was one of the tortured souls of the peak-hour commute into Sydney, but saw relief - and opportunity - in under-utilised private car parks.
The company has a free app that allows motorists to search for and book a parking space in commercial buildings owned or run by dozens of property groups, including Mirvac, Dexus, Knight Frank and TFE Hotels. These firms also make money from this digital marketplace for parking, which is akin to a subterranean Airbnb.
"The name comes from sharing, so to 'divvy up' means to divide or share it. Our company is based on collaborative consumption, which is about sharing things that are already built," Mr Austin explains.
Cutting parking costs
But to work, the smart platform must have reliable technology that, for example, uses licence-plate recognition to allow drivers easy access to car parks.
"It is a very competitive marketplace and users expect tech to work really well these days and if it doesn't, the app goes off the phone," Mr Austin adds.
"We like to be a lot more competitive than [established companies] Wilson or Secure, and we do that by having a much more efficient business model by leveraging the power of technology. Typically, we'll be between 20-60% cheaper," he claims.
Divvy Parking says Sydney is in the top 10 of the most expensive places to park in the world, with Brisbane and Melbourne not far behind.
Wilson Parking would not comment on its competitors, but another industry heavyweight, Secure Parking, said: "Divvy are one of many small online operators who are attempting to enter the car park market without success. They all claim to offer cheaper parking solutions than large operators but they do not have the 'know-how' required to successfully manage a car park or provide the levels of customer service required."
Shaking things up
But Danielle Logue, an associate professor at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) Business School, says Divvy Parking will help to shake up a lucrative sector.
"I always love these challenger start-ups coming in, blowing up the system and making sure these larger firms don't take for granted their market share and their customer base," she says.
"A lot of the time these disruptors are really solving painful problems for lots of different groups of people. For example, with Divvy [matching] supplies of car spaces with idle resources and everyone that is coming into the city that finds it really annoying to find a car space."
But she cautions that the technology that underpins the Divvy Parking App must always work.
"If you have one bad experience, if you're coming down to a car park and there is no mobile reception, you probably won't try that again. It really has got to solve your problem from the very beginning."
There's often spare parking capacity in large office blocks as employment patterns in Australia shift. More people are working at home, or are choosing public transport, so commercial buildings don't always need to allocate parking to individual workers five days a week.
Nick Austin believes that with so many empty spaces, the Divvy App can ease traffic snarl-ups on the snail-paced roads of central Sydney.
"I believe there shouldn't be any on-street parking, particularly when there is so much off-street parking that is sitting there not being used," he says.
"They say around 30% of congestion is caused by cars driving around looking for parking, so I think those two things alone would incredibly reduce congestion in the central business district."
In a boost to the firm he founded in 2011, Australia's largest motoring group, the National Roads and Motoring Association (NRMA), will buy a "significant minority share" in Divvy Parking.
"By working closely with the property sector, Divvy Parking and its smart parking technology can connect drivers to prime parking spaces that currently sit idle in some of our largest and most centrally placed corporate properties," says NRMA group chief executive Rohan Lund.
While he's wary that his idea could be pilfered and copied elsewhere, Nick Austin has ambitions well beyond the congested streets of Australia's major cities.
"Internationally, there are key areas in Asia, Europe and the US, which would make a lot of sense for this technology to roll out [in]. We are approached on a regular basis by groups to either invest or partner overseas and we are exploring those opportunities," he says.