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Boston mayor sharply rebukes Haystack parking app

Haystack, launched in Baltimore in May, is expanding to Boston this week with what its 24-year-old founder calls a convenient solution to one of urban living’s great frustrations.

David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/File

Haystack, launched in Baltimore in May, is expanding to Boston this week with what its 24-year-old founder calls a convenient solution to one of urban living’s great frustrations.

Boston officials have escalated their rhetoric opposing a new mobile app that lets drivers trade public parking spaces for cash, but they are not doing anything to stop the service.

On Tuesday, Mayor Martin J. Walsh accused Haystack, the Baltimore startup that makes an app with the same name, of artificially inflating parking prices and giving some drivers an unfair advantage over others.

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The city’s Transportation Department “will take appropriate measures to prohibit any such app,” Walsh said in a statement.

The mayor’s sharp tone is still short of the cease-and-desist letter the City of San Francisco sent to the makers of similar parking apps in June. San Francisco threatened fines and two companies, MonkeyParking and ParkModo, quickly abandoned operations there.

A Walsh spokeswoman declined to describe the “appropriate measures” the city is considering, but said “all options are on the table at this time.”

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Haystack’s founder, Eric Meyer, said that while he hoped to gain the backing of City Hall, he does not believe any regulatory approval is required.

“I think we had an opportunity to have a great collaboration with the city, and we’re still open to that,” Meyer said. “We have thousands of Boston neighbors that are wanting this, demanding this, as an easier way to park.”

He added that the company will press on, unfazed, with plans to expand to additional cities, though he declined to say where or when.

Walsh’s statement came on the day of Haystack’s scheduled launch in Boston and after a meeting between Transportation Department officials and Meyer.

Last week, the company said that it planned to enter the Boston market, and Daniel Koh, the mayor’s chief of staff, responded by saying the city was concerned about a private company, as well as drivers, profiting from public property. But he added that collaboration with Haystack would be possible to help people find parking spots more quickly.

After a meeting between the two sides, however, the city issued a statement Tuesday afternoon saying it is “not engaged with Haystack in any discussions around a partnership.”

Haystack works by allowing the driver occupying a parking space to notify other app users that she will leave her spot in a matter of minutes. Alerted to the opening via Haystack, a nearby motorist can claim the space and receive precise directions, along with a description of the departing vehicle.

When the first car leaves and the second takes its place, the driver of the newly parked vehicle is billed $3 electronically. The original occupant gets to keep $2.25, and Haystack takes a commission of 75 cents for facilitating the exchange.

Meyer contends his business does not broker the sale of public property but merely provides a cash incentive for drivers to swap useful information.

In Meyer’s hometown of Baltimore, officials have taken a wait-and-see approach to the app. The mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, attended Haystack’s launch party in May, and the director of its parking authority has said he will review the pros and cons before passing judgment.

Callum Borchers can be reached at callum.borchers@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @callumborchers.
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