CHICAGO — Varun Goel and Gaurav Goyal don't drive or own cars, but the two young programmers know how easy it is for drivers to get slapped with parking tickets — especially for parking on the wrong side of the street on street-cleaning days.
So, they decided to build an iPhone app that would let users know when street-cleaning is scheduled on their block.
Car Pal also will let drivers know if their car is parked on a street with a winter overnight parking ban or when it's time to feed the parking meter.
"It's definitely a pain to find parking in the city, especially in dense neighborhoods," Goel said. "This app helps drivers determine whether they're parking legally or not."
Both Goel and Goyal were born in India, went to school in the U.S. and ended up meeting after getting jobs as programmers at Morningstar.
The two became friends, and last July they decided to team up to enter a hackathon organized by the City of Chicago. The event gave programmers 24 hours to utilize datasets available from the Chicago Data Portal to develop a computer or smartphone app that would be useful to Chicagoans.
At first, the two were stymied on what kind of app they should produce. But Goyal recalled the frustration of getting street-cleaning parking tickets before he sold his car.
Goyal said while living in Lincoln Park, he would park his car nearby and take the CTA to work Downtown.
"I was working Downtown and was hardly using [my car]," Goyal said. "Sometimes I wouldn't drive my car for days, so I usually never saw the [street-cleaning] signs on the street, so I kept on getting tickets."
The two decided to try tapping into the city's street-sweeping schedule for their project. Twenty-four hours later they wound up with an application to remind drivers the night before street-sweeping was scheduled and save them from a costly parking ticket. Their Car Pal app won second place.
"That was very encouraging and very pleasing," Goel said. "That's when we felt it could be a full-fledged application."
They decided to give Car Pal more functionality by adding the ability to warn drivers when they park on a street with winter overnight parking restrictions, or when a 2-inch snow parking ban is in effect. The app even allows drivers to check a city database to see if their car has been towed.
The Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation, which is responsible for street-cleaning and towing cars parked in banned zones, said it supports technology like Car Pal and recommends anything that helps drivers remember to move their vehicles.
"The department supports any technology that helps reminds residents about street-sweeping and the winter overnight parking ban," said Streets and San spokeswoman Molly Poppe.
For drivers using the city's parking meters, Car Pal features a timer that warns drivers when it's time to feed their meter. The timer, using GPS to determine how far a driver is from their vehicle, gives users enough time to walk back before the meter expires.
"Our vision is to have one composite app for your car; we want everything in one app," Goel said.
Car Pal is available via download from iTunes. Goel said an Android version of the app will be available soon.