Geek Speak: Campbell Macdonald, president of Parking Mobility

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      Do you ever see drivers without permits using parking spots for people with disabilities? Now, with Campbell Macdonald’s Parking Mobility application for the iPhone, you can do more than shake your head at them.

      A 39-year-old, Winnipeg-born entrepreneur, Macdonald is the president of Parking Mobility, which he cofounded with Craig Spradling. Their iPhone app allows users to report cars that are illegally parked in accessible spaces to the City of Vancouver, which is participating in a trial. It also helps users find accessible parking and suggest locations for disabled parking.

      With a soft launch in November 2009 and more official launch in January, the Parking Mobility app has been downloaded 3,000 times and has 2,000 active users, according to Macdonald. The company is seeking feedback from users and plans to make BlackBerry and Android versions.

      The Georgia Straight reached Macdonald at his home office in Vancouver.

      Why did you develop Parking Mobility?

      The idea came to my business partner. He has cerebral palsy, and he dealt with the day-to-day challenge of being able to find parking, and also he found that the limited parking that was available for people with disabilities was often used by people who didn’t have a placard. So, he talked to me about this, and we tried to figure out a solution. We developed an application that allows people to report to the city when a person is parked in a spot without a placard. We thought this would be a good solution to the problem and it would help out the 15 percent of the population that have mobility issues.

      How does one go about using the app?

      They download it to their phone, which is free. Then, when they see a car that’s parked illegally, they launch the application. The workflow takes them through a series of four photographs of the car, and they take those photos and then submit them. That’s really all there is to it. We take some other information from the application. We take a GPS reading and a timestamp, as well as user information, and then pass that on to the city.

      How has the City of Vancouver responded to the app?

      They’re interested in it. Right now, they’re not really looking at new programs, just because the Olympics have really kind of superseded everything. But they were interested enough to do a trial. We’ve had an endorsement from the advisory committee to council for accessibility.

      Do you know what is happening to the info that is passed on to the City of Vancouver?

      Well, we’re sharing it with the parking enforcement, and we’re not getting feedback yet. But we’ll be following up with them just to see how they’re pursuing it and if the data is good enough. But they’ve said that, if the information is compelling, they’ll be issuing infractions based on the data that we provide.

      How have people from the disability community responded?

      It’s been pretty overwhelming. There’s not a lot of applications that are built specifically for people with disabilities, so the response has been pretty overwhelming. We also received a pretty public endorsement from the B.C. Coalition of People With Disabilities. That’s kind of an umbrella group. So, Jane Dyson from them gave us a pretty glowing endorsement. The support’s been really good.

      What other applications could the Parking Mobility model be extended to?

      We get that question a lot. For the moment, we’re really just focusing on accessible parking. We don’t really have the bandwidth internally to really take on more at this time, and we’d like to see a little bit of success with this. But there’s definitely other types of reporting that it could be used for. But we’re actually starting to look at applications to really help with accessibility in other areas, such as points of interest or just getting around in general.

      How is the application being promoted during the Olympics?

      We’re getting a little bit of word of mouth on the press, and we’re also part of DigiBC’s digital showcase, which is really a promotion of digital media within B.C. So, we’re one of 70 companies that were selected, and we’re part of the showcase down at Robson Square. So, we’re getting a little bit of promotion through that, and we expect that we’re going to get some increased attention through the Paralympic Games as well.

      Every Friday, Geek Speak catches up with someone in Vancouver’s technology sector, video-game industry, or social-media scene. Who should we interview next? Tell Stephen Hui on Twitter at