Regardless of whether or not you own a vehicle, you’ve probably grown to despise the PPA. It’s understandable, really, especially considering the ongoing allegations of corruption and the endless, maddening encounters nearly every Philadelphian has gone though. I need not even mention the popular TV show that’s dedicated multiple seasons to those entertaining tantrums that occur when locals try to navigate the PPA’s labyrinthian channels.
Yes, it seems the PPA has become Philadelphia’s own worst enemy. But what else can we do besides beg our Parking Overlords for mercy? The answer has always been nothing, but a group of young entrepreneurs are currently looking to change that.
Hans Smith, Ted Mann, Ashwin Dhir and Steve High have put their heads together to come up with a brilliant mobile app tentatively titled, Eff the PPA. While it won’t track actual PPA agents, it will help motorists to avoid tickets and fight those pesky violations.
I recently spoke with Hans Smith about his group’s new idea, and I quickly realized that his invention could serve as a trusted ally in the battle to mollify our PPA-induced terror. His plan, like most successful inventions, came about from a rational request; “I got interested in it more when the open data initiative for Philadelphia started during Philly tech week. I went over there and said the PPA should release the data block by block for what the parking rules are. Then someone can build this nifty iPhone app.”
Unfortunately, Hans’ suggestion was not considered. In fact, no one even knows if such data has ever been digitalized, since the PPA has never released it to the public. “I get the sense that they don’t even have it. And I think they just go off of what the sign is on every street. Although I’ve heard that the new kiosk system won’t let you pay for more hours than you can actually use on that block, so the data must be somewhere. “
The Eff the PPA app hopes to deliver a comprehensive listing of parking rules and parameters throughout the city. This way, you’ll no longer have to pace up and down the sidewalk looking for a sign that was stolen during the Clinton administration or recently rendered indecipherable from stray pigeon waste.
Using geolocation, the app will notify users of the relevant parking rules for whatever street they’re currently on (or plan to park on), making parking a much less stressful ordeal.
But as most drivers know, the real problems occur after you’ve found a spot. So, Hans and his team developed a clever timer that will remind you to feed the meter or move your car as needed. “Once they end up parking somewhere…a screen will pop up and show them the parking rules in a very simple way so they can confirm, ‘Yes, I can park here for two hours.’ They can then set a reminder for themselves. We’re planning on having all possible ways of reminding you whether it’s text, phone calls.”
The benefits here are obvious: No more setting your friend’s egg timer only to forget it in a drunken, Tuesday night haze. But let’s assume you receive a ticket that you didn’t deserve (see hardbacking). Well, Eff the PPA’s attorney referral system will help you fight the ticket and save you valuable time in the process. “We’re working on an attorney referral system model where people can easily submit a tickets, their reason for why they don’t deserve it and maybe some pictures that show, ‘No, I wasn’t in the loading zone, I don’t deserve it.’ ”
In what’s clearly a sign of the team’s stellar foresight, users will not even have to enter in the lengthy ticket information, as a small part of your attorney referral fee (no estimate on that cost yet) will go towards what’s called an MTurk, or Amazon Mechanical Turk, in which a third party, most likely someone overseas, will extract the necessary information for you.
This data will then go to a trained attorney who specializes in such cases. “That’s kind of the wrinkle we think is more unique then our whole parking rules part. Having to skip a few hours of work, go in, make your argument… it’s just not worth your time and effort and, economically, you should just pay your $40.”
While Hans and his team have not fully developed the app yet, they did manage to win free legal consultation for their idea during Philly Start Up Weekend. The group estimates they’ll need anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000 to fully fund the venture for release on the iPhone- a measly estimate considering how many people would use the thing.
But then there’s also the concern over the name, to which Hans so eloquently elaborated, “It was just born out of my pitch because I knew that I had to pitch something that would catch people’s attention in the competition. I was all set to actually drop F-bombs and there was like this ten year-old kid who was participating sitting there in the auditorium. I was like, ‘Oh, man. I can’t start swearing in front of this kid.’ ”
Itunes’ approval for their app store is notoriously strict and, as such, the name (and the logo) may be tweaked by the time it hits your download queue.
While Hans gave me no solid estimate on when the app may be released, he did tell me that his team, who all hold outside jobs or academic careers, quoted around a few hundred hours of development.
That seems like time well spent.
Main photo courtesy of Scott Gries, A&E Television/Interior images courtesy of Eff the PPA