Cashless parking coming

October 12, 2009
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In three weeks, Parking Services will take its next step into the virtual age with cashless parking.

Nov. 2 is the date the city department plans to initiate a pay-by-cell-phone system via the Internet for on-street parking.

“We’re good to go,” said Pam Ritsema, director of Parking Services.

Last week, city commissioners approved a one-year pilot program that the department negotiated with ParkMobile, the leading provider in Europe.

When a parker pulls into a metered space, they can call an 800 number to start their parking time and call again to end it. The parking fee is then charged to their credit card.

The system can also send text messages to let parkers know when their time is running out at a meter that has a limit of, say, two hours.

ParkMobile charges a 35-cent fee for a transaction, which is also billed to a parker’s credit card. But Ritsema said her department will waive the fee for the program’s first 90 days and also discount the meter rates by 30 percent for those who register for and use the pay-by-cell system. A sticker listing the 800 number will be placed on each meter.

One issue raised last week by 2nd Ward City Commissioner David LaGrand and Parking Commissioner David Leonard is a concern that the system will make it easier for parkers to squat at meters for much of the day when downtown retailers count on those spaces turning over on a regular basis for their customers. Instead of having to physically feed a meter, they pointed out, someone can simply call the 800 number to restart the meter.

Ritsema said she was aware of the potential for abuse but wants to measure the behavior of those registered with the ParkMobile system before taking any action.

Ritsema said cities that have used the system have seen revenue from meters go up as parkers tend to park longer than they would if they used cash. “Typically, people stay longer when they use a credit card — usually 30 percent longer,” she said.

ParkMobile will market the system here, provide the Internet site where customers can review their accounts, survey parkers that use the system, and then pass the results on to the department. The city will pay the transaction fee for the first three months and offer the discount to the system’s users. Individuals must register with Parking Services, and employers can list multiple vehicles on a single credit card.

Although the pilot program is for a year, the city can terminate the agreement after 90 or 180 days with 10 days notice to ParkMobile.

The company’s corporate headquarters is in London and its cashless parking systems are operating in Belgium, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, the UK, Canada and the U.S.

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