Startup Metropolis looks to disrupt parking

Industry

Parking is a pain point that technology has tried to solve with solutions such as automated attendants, cameras and even sensors on cars used to recognize empty on-street spaces. But beyond app-based payments, technology has not moved the needle in terms of transforming parking the way, say, ride-share has altered the taxi industry.

For those reasons, Detroit-based veteran mobility venture capitalist Chris Thomas vowed he would never invest in another parking company. But last month, through his firm Assembly Ventures and with more than a half-dozen VC firms in tow, Thomas co-led a $167 million Series B investment round of financing in parking startup Metropolis Technologies.

What made Thomas, a mobility VC pioneer who co-founded Fontinalis Ventures with Bill Ford in 2009, break his pledge is not only Metropolis’ state-of-the-art approach to parking but also its tie-in with commercial real estate and adjacent businesses.

“I believe Metropolis is building the most thoughtful, dynamic, flexible and complete payment platform for the future of movement in the Western world,” Thomas told Automotive News. While Metropolis provides a seamless parking payment experience for drivers at locations across North America and is expanding the service, he added, “the company can enable and empower so much more,” including working with commercial real estate developers to connect drivers with nearby businesses.

Metropolis CEO Alex Israel, whose former startup ParkMe was acquired by mobility data company Inrix in 2015, said his initial involvement in app-based parking services and data led him to a different approach this time.

“Driving to work, parking in the garage and running errands on the way home hasn’t changed much in the last 70 years,” he said via email. “It’s a weirdly archaic experience. Parking is the obvious first use case for modern technology along the journey but not the last. Parking, pickup, fueling and charging and tolling are all common parts of the everyday journey that are long overdue for an evolved experience.”

Metropolis has raised $226 million in total and intends to increase head count from 2,000 to 2,500 by the end of the year to support growth. Israel said the latest influx of financing will be invested in product development, analytics and sales and marketing and expand into “new mobility adjacent verticals.”

While most apps and startups focus on payment via a smartphone, Metropolis goes a step further and partners with parking structure operators adjacent to commercial areas. Metropolis supplies its technology to parking companies that provide customers with what Israel calls the convenience of a “drive in and drive out” experience without having to pay upon exit by credit card, cash or even access their phones.

Metropolis employs camera-based computer-vision and machine-learning technology supported by proprietary software and data analysis to recognize cars and automatically charge a customer’s account. Customers sign up and provide their name, license plate and phone number, email and payment method to access the Metropolis service at an affiliated parking facility and receive an email receipt after exiting and can check the cost in real time via a Metropolis app.

The Metropolis platform has been deployed in more than 600 parking facilities in over 60 cities nationwide, and the company has more than 1.8 million users. Metropolis recently acquired Premier Parking, a Nashville-based company that operated hundreds of parking garages and spaces around the U.S, and in November the company announced a partnership with Uber Park that allows those using the ride-sharing app to access locations within the Metropolis network.

A key differentiator for Metropolis is the ability to connect businesses in the same building or immediate area, allowing merchants to offer exclusive promotions and discounts within the Metropolis app.

While drivers benefit from the convenience of the Metropolis platform, it also allows parking facility owners to adjust pricing and operations based on Metropolis data. “By leveraging Metropolis, commercial real estate operators can gain understanding into how their assets are being utilized by consumers,” a company spokesperson said. “They can better inform pricing, staffing, maintenance and investment strategy, which is why many of the largest commercial real estate players in the country are our customers and why several are also investors.”

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