For those of us who are interested in saving gas, money and the planet, those new smartphone parking apps seem like a great idea.  After all, who wouldn’t want to be able to zero in on available parking and avoid burning up extra fuel in the hunt for a spot?  So when a friend suggested trying a free app, the Streetline Parker, it was definitely worth a test drive in downtown Washington, DC.  Sadly, it proved disappointing.

The Tech Specs

For starters, the interface is pretty awkward.  The first map you land on shows a large area, so it was necessary to zoom in three times to get specific enough to be useful.  After that, it quickly became clear that the data available is extremely limited.  There was no street parking information, only garage locations – and nothing you can’t get on Google Maps.

Information for garages was inadequate: no rates, just hours, phone number and address.  It was also clear that the garage database in the system was incomplete:  at one point, although the car was directly in front of a garage, the system failed to register the existence of the parking facility in full view.  And there was no information at all for Arlington, VA, a major population center that is right across the Potomac River and is an integral part of the metro DC area.

Drivers searching for handicapped spots or electric vehicle parking information are similarly out of luck: Parker had none of either. At the same time, some features the app does have, such as “Parking History,” don’t seem to serve a useful purpose.  The “Pay by Phone” options piggyback on other services you can subscribe to elsewhere. The voice guidance might be useful…if the system had sufficient information about parking destinations to which you might want to be guided.

Also puzzling was the city-by-city list, which seemed somewhat pointless. If you have your phone’s “Location Services” function turned on, which is necessary to use the feature, you know where you are without the Parker list.

At Least It’s Free

It’s not easy to be so hard on what is likely a well-intentioned invention, so we can say this:  at least it’s free…monetarily speaking.  It will take up 26.6 MB of storage, though, which is hard to understand since Google Earth, which puts the whole planet at your fingertips, uses only 24.7 MB.

The bottom line?  This might be a case of getting what you pay for, because Parker doesn’t offer any information that can’t be found more easily with other apps or mapping programs.  And that’s too bad, because if it could tell you how many spaces are open in a certain garage or on a certain street, it’d be amazing. But it doesn’t, or didn’t, at least for this user.

Of course, it’s possible that other users might have a different experience, and that the developer is still working out the kinks.  Also, the parking-app arena is popular and growing, so Parker has plenty of competitors.  Click here for a list of options (including Parker) on the Mashable website.  And if anyone has a truly fantastic parking-app experience to report, please let us know (