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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

November 25, 2014 at 12:18 PM

Online valet parking soars in Seattle; Bellevue next

Add this to the list of ways Seattle tech workers outdo their peers in San Francisco:

Tech workers in Seattle were quicker to pounce on Zirx, an on-demand, online valet parking service.

The San Francisco-based startup launched in its hometown seven months ago and began operating in South Lake Union in September.

San Francisco’s parking woes are legendary, but Seattle must be catching up. Zirx uptake was much faster in Seattle, according to Chief Executive Sean Behr.

“Seattle’s actually been a bigger success over its first six to eight weeks,” he said.

The Seattle launch was about 33 percent faster than the San Francisco launch, he said.

Seattle customers are also more likely to use the Android version of the Zirx app, while San Franciscans are more likely to use the iOS version, he said. Perhaps that’s because Zirx started in an area filled with employees of Amazon.com, which makes Android phones and tablets.

After its success operating remotely in Seattle, Zirx is now starting to expand to other cities. On Monday it launched in downtown Los Angeles.

Bellevue should get the service sometime in the first quarter of 2015, Behr said. The city became a shopping mecca in part by offering free parking, but its garages are now congested enough that Zirx sees an opportunity.

Screenshot of Zirx Seattle service area.

Screenshot of Zirx Seattle service area.

In Seattle, Zirx has expanded through Belltown — it now reaches from Lake Union to Olive Way — and it’s considering an expansion into neighborhoods such as Capitol Hill.

“Every week or two we say, ‘Let’s open up a neighborhood, another area,’ ” Behr said. “I believe this works anywhere there’s a parking issue.”

Customers use the app to summon a Zirx driver who will collect their car and park it in a nearby lot for $15 per day. When they need the car, customers use the app to request the vehicle’s return. The turnaround is supposed to take five to seven minutes.

If the service gets too popular, it could create some friction in neighborhoods if Zirx drivers or customers double park or hog passenger loading zones and other open spots. It could also draw regulatory scrutiny if it’s relying on 3-minute passenger loading spots to operate a commercial parking service that fills those spaces for five to seven minutes.

Behr said so far it hasn’t received any parking tickets in Seattle.

“Our focus is to be good city residents first and foremost,” he said. “When we talk to our customers, when they email us about this and [we] educate them on what to do, the first thing is ‘don’t double park.’ ”

Asked where cars should park during the handovers, Behr said the plan is to “find a safe location to pull over to the side,” where cars aren’t blocking public transportation, bike lanes or through traffic.

“Most people pull into an unoccupied space or a loading zone where they’re out of the traffic,” he said.

Zirx is also adding more services through its app. Customers can have their cars filled with gas — at $5 per gallon — or have the car washed for $30 or the oil changed for $45 to $90 while parked with the company.

Comments | Topics: Amazon.com, Bellevue, parking

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