Curb appeal: U.K. startup reimagines city parking (and decarbonization) from the gutter up

November 28, 2023 | By Sophie Hares

In 2013, Dan Hubert was circling London’s Royal Albert Hall, desperately trying to a grab a parking space in order not to miss the opening of the latest Cirque du Soleil show, when he had an epiphany.

Digitizing the rules and restrictions of the side of the road could make parking easier. Granular curbside maps and up-to-the-minute data could show drivers where to leave their cars and dodge hefty fines — even in a city notorious for its mind-bendingly complex on-street parking regulations.

When he discovered there was no comprehensive digital map of the city’s myriad parking zones, he started dusting off old street maps and printing PDFs from London’s 33 local authorities to try to knit together his own.

From there, Hubert spent the next year cycling around the city to photograph thousands of parking signs and feed the wealth of data he gleaned into an app for drivers.

“Those four inches of curb are mountainous in terms of the politics, regulation and the bureaucracy behind it,” Hubert says.

A decade down the track, his tech firm AppyWay has created curbside maps of 550 U.K. towns and cities, pulling from multiple data sources to show users where they can find empty spots to park or charge their electric vehicles. The platform also offers traditional cashless payments when drivers need to pay.

It’s also playing a role in decarbonizing cities and making them smarter. Alongside cutting congestion, this data helps local authorities plan measures such as rollouts for EV charging stations and the creation of micromobility hubs as e-bikes and scooter programs experience huge growth — and as more cities institute congestion pricing to reduce traffic.

Like many founders, Hubert, a former advertising creative director, feels like he’s been running a marathon for the past decade. His app quickly caught on with commuters and fleet drivers, but transport authorities and potential investors initially struggled to see its potential.

His luck soon changed as he won a string of awards and started to drum up capital. This gave him the freedom to reject a low-ball bid for part of his business that he fielded on “Dragons’ Den,” U.K.’s version of “Shark Tank.”

As AppyWay has grown from a solitary man on a bike to a 40-person business, London’s roads have also evolved with the meteoric rise of home deliveries, ride hailing and EVs.

Hubert says that with 30% of urban congestion caused by people circling around looking for a parking space, providing drivers with better digital maps is key to reducing traffic and greening cities.

By tracking driver patterns, local authorities can then use dynamic pricing to deter people from getting in their cars at peak times and encourage them to opt for public transport instead.

Additionally, AppyWay’s centralized data is now helping local authorities take a big-picture view as they start to rethink how to use their curbside real estate, particularly as the U.K.’s introduction of autonomous vehicles edges closer.

“The more data you put into the curb and the more intelligence you can get out, the more data-driven decisions you can make. You can actually take the politics out of parking,” he says. 

Now AppyWay has joined Mastercard Start Path Emerging Fintech, the company’s six-month startup engagement program that gives later-stage fintechs dedicated support and access to experts, technology and the company’s network of connections. Hubert hopes the program will help the company realize its plans to expand first to Dublin and then throughout cities in Europe.

It’s also a chance to find ways to better integrate payments solutions into the platform so AppyWay’s customers can seamlessly park and pay using its app, before moving on with the rest of their day.

“For 1.5 billion people around the world, the dialogue in your head as you’re driving is, 'Where can I park, is there a space, and can I pay?',”  he says. “When we do our job, we become invisible, and parking becomes forgettable.”

Sophie Hares, Contributor