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Haystack suspends parking app operations in Boston after council vote

The Boston City Council voted Wednesday to prohibit the sale, lease, or reservation of public ways in the city, an ordinance that effectively bans the mobile parking app Haystack from operating in the city. In response, Haystack said it would suspend operations in Boston until further notice while continuing to work with the city to find an acceptable solution to Boston’s parking woes.

Baltimore-based Haystack launched in Boston in July. It allows drivers of cars parked in a public parking space to notify other app users that they are about to leave. A nearby motorist can claim the spot for a fee. Most transactions cost $3, but rates can climb as high as $15. Haystack keeps a quarter of the fee, and the rest goes to the driver who gave up the parking space.

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Even before Haystack began service in Boston, Mayor Martin J. Walsh said he was concerned about the company’s business model, but he did not move to halt operations before the council considered a new ordinance.

Haystack and similar apps have raised the hackles of officials in several cities.

In San Francisco, the city sent cease-and-desist letters to the makers of similar parking apps, MonkeyParking and ParkModo, in June. Those two companies quickly abandoned operations there.

“My understanding [of Haystack] was that they were trying to buy and sell public property that wasn’t theirs to buy and sell,” Councilor Frank Baker of Dorchester said prior to the vote. “I think we should vote to ban this particular app because it is dealing with our property.”

Councilor Tito Jackson of Roxbury said that this vote was a difficult one for him because he thought it could risk thwarting technology and innovation.

“I’m worried about blowback,” he said. “Are we taking away a potential opportunity?”

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Haystack founder Eric Meyer issued a statement after the council vote arguing that the app does not sell, lease, or reserve public parking spots. “The passage of this ordinance is a step in the wrong direction for parking innovation, and for innovation of every kind,” he said.

But he said the company would suspend service in the hopes of working with the city of Boston “to identify a modified approach to parking issues” that would gain the support of City Hall.


Dennis Keohane can be reached at dennis.keohane@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @DBKeohane and on betaboston.com.