Folly Beach (copy)

Folks heading to Folly Beach Sunday afternoon, June 24, 2018, sit in traffic on Folly Road as a sign tells them to follow the parking rules when they make it to the island. Brad Nettles/Staff

The Charleston area’s suburban regions generally have too much surface parking. It hampers walkability, exacerbates stormwater runoff and wastes valuable real estate.

But finding a spot to leave a car can pose a much greater challenge in some parts of the region, like downtown Charleston and area beaches.

The local creators of the Hah (How About Here) Parking app came up with an innovative solution. Using an app, home or business owners can rent out unused parking on private property by the hour or by the day.

It’s not the only app claiming to be the “Airbnb of parking,” but it’s the first to attempt to break into the Lowcountry market.

The app’s creators might want to avoid that comparison, however. After all, Airbnb faced varying degrees of resistance from local governments. It was banned until recently in most of Charleston.

Hah Parking has drawn some opposition as well. Folly Beach officials, for example, have said the app can be used only in commercial zones, meaning businesses can rent out extra parking space but homeowners cannot. City Council further discussed the issue earlier in August, but didn’t change any rules.

Allowing parking rentals in residential neighborhoods merits caution. But local officials ought to be open to the idea.

There are plenty of differences between parking apps and Airbnb, after all.

Housing is in short supply in the Charleston area, but parking — particularly on private property — is typically not. And visitors renting homes on Airbnb become temporary neighbors, for better or for worse. But people renting parking spaces aren’t likely to throw raucous parties in the driveway.

In other words, Airbnb can create disruptions and shortages. Apps like Hah Parking have the potential to solve them.

In an ideal situation, apps could dramatically reduce the need for wasteful, overly large surface parking lots and expensive parking garages. Municipalities could save money while homeowners cash in on underutilized space.

Charleston has struggled with how best to help hospitality workers afford parking on the peninsula, for instance. Surely there’s plenty of unused driveway space downtown.

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It’s not a bad idea to set some ground rules, however.

Right now, some parking apps don’t seem to require any proof that a user listing a space actually owns the corresponding property. That’s a problem. To be fair, Airbnb doesn’t require proof of ownership either. But homes have keys, driveways usually don’t.

If anyone can charge to park anywhere, that’s chaos. Particularly in places like Folly Beach, where the public right of way is mostly free for parking, it’s easy to imagine someone trying to take advantage of visitors’ naivete to make an extra buck.

And there ought to be a way for neighbors to flag listings if things get out of control.

But generally, apps like Hah Parking seem like a great idea. They’re a market-driven solution to parking shortages that can adapt to demand much more quickly than municipal budgets. They can minimize the amount of public space dedicated to car storage.

One day, the Charleston area might not be so car dependent, and parking might not be such a necessary amenity. For now, we should be receptive to innovations that help provide solutions.

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