Photo: Shared parking service Rakupa includes detailed photographs to guide users to their parking spots.

Have you ever had that sinking feeling of finally arriving at your destination after hours of driving only to discover that there’s nowhere to park your car? Rakuten’s latest innovation hopes to make that feeling a thing of the past, by making finding a parking space as easy as tapping on your smartphone.

Launched on February 23, 2017, Rakupa (short for Rakuten Parking) is a platform that allows owners of unused parking spaces to rent them out to drivers. The platform represents an acceleration of Rakuten’s participation in the sharing economy, which to date has consisted mainly of investments in iconic companies such as Lyft and Cabify.

“In Japan, some of the most common reasons for illegal parking are that there were no parking spaces nearby or that there were but they were full,” explains Teppei Yamagami of the New Services Development Company and head of the new service. “We also know that the parking industry is huge – the coin-operated parking sector alone was worth about 340 billion yen in 2014, and the sector hasn’t really gone online yet, so we see a great opportunity to provide a parking space sharing service.”

“In Japan, some of the most common reasons for illegal parking are that there were no parking spaces nearby or they were full,” explains Teppei Yamagami, head of Rakupa.

With Rakupa, parking space owners can register their unused spaces through the service and set the price for rental, with Rakupa receiving a percentage of the rental payments. With no initial fees or maintenance costs, Rakupa is a quick and easy way for owners to make the most of their underutilized assets.

The top page of the Rakupa platform showing the parking spaces available in a particular area.

The top page of the Rakupa platform showing the parking spaces available in a particular area.

For drivers, a quick search of your destination on the Rakupa site or app reveals all the parking spaces available for rental in that particular area. Tap on a parking space of your choosing and you’re presented with a range of information, including price, location, height and size restrictions and even photographs showing exactly where you should park. One more tap and the space is booked. Users can also utilize Google Maps from within the site or app to get to the destination easily.

Currently parking spaces are offered at a flat rate for an entire day, but Yamagami says the team is also looking into making them available for an hourly rate.

As of its launch, the service offers around 1,000 parking spaces in Tokyo and also Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama prefectures. There are also plans to expand the service into the rest of Japan within the year. Yamagami also has his sights on collaborations within the Rakuten Group. “We see a lot of potential synergy within the group. For example, by partnering with owners of hotels registered on Rakuten Travel or with beauty salons on Rakuten Beauty, we could offer parking options for their users.”

According to Yamagami, the response to the service from drivers and owners has been positive.

“Membership applications have exceeded our initial expectations,” he said. “We’ve had some great feedback, with a number of users commenting on the convenience of the service and how with Rakupa they have been able to find parking spaces in places where you wouldn’t normally see coin-operated parking, such as in residential areas. We want to continue to expand the service around Japan and help remove some of the stress of parking to make driving more enjoyable.”