Parking Panda brings driveway sharing, parking space finder app to SF

There are 400,000 public parking spots in San Francisco, but if you live there, or if you’ve ever tried to park in most areas of the city you know it’s awful. Enter Parking Panda, a parking assistance service and iPhone app that will give users a variety of ways to find a place to park. The service will help you find and reserve private driveways, parking structure or public garage spots, or just locate the nearest open curb-side spot.

In San Francisco (and across the bay in neighboring Oakland), Parking Panda will have 5,000 to 10,000 parking spaces available for reservation. Users can search for spots available in a certain area and see what the garage or driveway owner is charging before committing to a reservation. It can be for a a few hours, a day, week, month, whatever. Though it’s one of its most useful features, you don’t have to plan in advance to use Parking Panda.

“Parking is always the unknown,” Parking Panda CEO Nick Miller said in a phone call last week. “You have the tickets, you have a dinner reservations … we sort of take that [parking] problem away.”

The service works in two ways, Miller said. “Like AirBnb, private owners can list spaces for rent, and we’re working with commercial operators to yelp them optimize their yield.” In other words, it’s helping privately owned parking garages that aren’t full manage their space inventory better. By doing peer-to-peer driveway renting, and helping large garages rent out space, Parking Panda is combining the services of a few of its competitors; ParkAtMyHouse lets individuals rent out their driveways only, while ParkWhiz, for example, just does event parking.

Miller and company started off just doing the AirBnb model, but soon realized that wasn’t going to cut it in large cities. “That’s great, but one of the things we find is that [model] only works in certain neighborhoods.” For instance, a notoriously difficult SF neighborhood to park in, the South of Market area, doesn’t have many private driveways. “In SoMa, you need garages to supplement that.”

Parking Panda has been live in Washington, D.C. and Baltimore for several months with 20,000 spots between the two cities. But its debut in San Francisco on Monday comes with another important milestone for the company: its first iPhone(s AAPL) app. (Android(s GOOG) is “coming soon.”) Also, users can still use the app outside of D.C., Baltimore and SF — there are 25 other cities where you can search for open spots, you just can’t reserve or pay in advance just yet.

Also coming soon: more cities. Boston, Los Angeles, and Austin are in Parking Panda’s near future. But before those, Miller promises me he has a bigger priority: my own city, Philadelphia, a place where the parking situation is so nightmarish, there’s a reality TV show about it.