A new mobile app launched Friday in San Antonio that promises an easy and affordable way to park downtown in City-owned garages.

The City of San Antonio partnered with Houston-based parking management company Sovereign Services to produce the Virtual Valet San Antonio app.

Customers can request their car be picked up anywhere within a half-mile radius of one of the four drop-off points downtown. The valet is tracked via GPS to show where your car is in real time (similar to ride-hailing platforms Lyft and Uber). Payments and tips can be paid through the app, but you don’t need the app to use the service: the valets accept cash and drive-up customers. The service will be available Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 5 p.m. to midnight, but the hours are subject to change.

“In return for providing Sovereign Services parking spaces and right of ways, they will pay us 20% of their revenue,” John Jacks, director of the City’s Center City Development and Operations Department (CCDO), which helped launch the app. “We worked closely with them to determine where the locations should be and will review the locations based on user data.”

In December 2016, City Council approved the company’s use of city parking garages and passenger loading and unloading areas on certain downtown streets.

That data over time will help the City of San Antonio work with Sovereign Services to adjust the number and location of pickup and drop-off spots.

Virtual valet app map of locations downtown
The Virtual Valet San Antonio free app allows drivers to choose a drop off location for valet parking in downtown San Antonio. Credit: Courtesy image

Harry and Ray Karr are the longtime owners of Sovereign Services, a company with more than 30 years of experience in the parking industry. It provides valet and parking services for special events, restaurants, shopping malls, hospitals, and hotels throughout Texas. They worked with Arnim & Sons Inc., a payment technology services business in Rosenberg, Texas, to build the mobile app.

“We are excited to provide this service to San Antonio,” said Sovereign Services Vice President of Operations Chris Rockwell. “Through this new program, Virtual Valet San Antonio will maximize the efficiency of San Antonio downtown public parking system while giving visitors the peace of mind that comes from easy parking and a high quality customer experience.”

Jacks said that, over the past year or so, the City has been looking at how to leverage technology “to make the experience of coming downtown better, especially for locals.

“People are used to using apps to get things done, so we were aiming for an easy solution to expand the opportunities to come downtown.”

Finding a spot to park, like in all large cities, can deter locals and visitors from spending a day or evening exploring San Antonio’s rapidly-developing downtown.

“This is an easy, affordable parking option that makes visits to downtown easy and accessible,” said Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1). “We’ve been at this for almost 18 months, working on how to give people more options and make different parts of the city accessible for our residents without their worrying about where to park.”

The City also is working on another “smart city” option — an app that allows users to pay their parking meters.

“We’re reviewing vendor applications currently in order to recommend one for approval by City Council later this year,” Jacks said. “This is a piece of a bigger effort to make things more convenient for people to visit our city.”

Both Jacks and Treviño said this virtual valet app approach, once proven downtown, could be applied in other parts of the city experiencing parking shortages such as the Pearl, north of downtown, and Southtown.

“We’ll scale up operations in phases, to make sure we stay focused on addressing areas where parking is an issue,” Rockwell said. As for expanding to areas with scarce parking such as the King William district, he said, “we’re open to all options. Capacity is not a concern.”

Courtyard Marriott's valet Will directs guests' cars to the correct parking spot.
Courtyard Marriott’s valet Will directs guests’ cars to the correct parking spot. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Sovereign Services also has discussed the possibility of offering additional services like car washing and gas refills for an additional cost. The Virtual Valet San Antonio operating hours from Thursday through Saturday nights represents additional revenue for the City of San Antonio.

“This will be extra revenue that we wouldn’t get normally, since demand is highest for city parking during the business daytime hours,” Jacks said.

There are currently four locations planned. The Houston Street location will be adjusted slightly to accommodate the Majestic Theatre’s own valet service provided on show nights.

The four locations are:

  • 222 E. Houston Street
    • On Non-Majestic Theatre show nights, located in the south curb-cut area on Houston Street directly in front of the Majestic Theatre.
    • On Majestic Theatre show nights, located in the south curb-cut area on Houston Street near the Buckhorn Saloon.
  • Hard Rock Cafe San Antonio, 111 W. Crocket Street, located in the south curb of Crockett Street just south of the South Bank.
  • 502 River Walk Street, located in the west curb-cut area directly across from Saltgrass Steak House.
  • 201-209 E. Crockett Street, located in the east curb in front of the Menger Hotel.
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Iris Gonzalez

Iris Gonzalez writes about technology, life science and veteran affairs.