Phoning it in: Parkmobile’s app makes parking easy

August 29, 2013

parkmobile meter

You’re at a parking meter, running an errand, and you have to decide how many quarters to put in. You errand shouldn’t take more than three, four quarters at most. But what if you get held up and you can’t break away to feed the parking meter? Do you throw in another fifty cents just to be safe? Seventy-five? Or do you just hope for the best? If so, are you risking a twenty-dollar parking ticket—or more—to save a little pocket change?

Or how about the times when you’re at the parking meter, late for your meeting, and you realize you have no change at all. You figure you’ll run into the store closest to your parking space, but there’s a sign in the window that says, “NO CHANGE!” Should you stop and buy something in order to get a few coins? Is there a bank around? What to do?

A company called Parkmobile wants to make quandaries such as this a quaint memory. With its mobile app, it enables motorists in participating communities to pay for parking by phone—and in most cases, to extend a parking session in the same way, without ever feeding coins into the meter.

About Parkmobile

Your license plate and credit card number or Paypal account are registered with Parkmobile, so all you need to do is enter a location code into your phone and your parking session begins. When the parking attendant comes around, he or she enters your license plate number into the system to find out whether you are paid up.

Parkmobile parking app

Parkmobile parking app

“Parkmobile enables consumers to pay for parking with a mobile phone in more than 500 locations in 35 states,” said Tina Dyer, marketing manager of Parkmobile USA, which is based in Atlanta. The service has more than 1.5 million members, she added.

The company was founded in Europe in 1999. At that time the technology was based on motorists’ use of toll-free telephone numbers. The company grew to dominate the mobile payment solutions sector in Europe, and in 2008, Parkmobile International was established to enter the U.S., Australia, New Zealand and later, Canada. “Parkmobile is the market leader in the U.S. for mobile payments in the parking industry,” said Dyer. “Parkmobile clients include municipalities such as Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and Houston; universities such as Georgia Tech, Ohio State, Arizona State and Arkansas; private operators such as SP Plus (f.k.a. Standard/Central), LAZ Parking and Lanier Parking and transit providers such as MBTA in Boston, METRA and CTA in Chicago, and MTA in New York.”

How Parkmobile works

For motorists, enrollment is free, as is downloading the Parkmobile smart phone app. You can enroll up to five vehicles on your account. Users pay a fee of between 25 and 75 cents for each parking session (though if you are detained and need to extend your parking session, it’s considered a new transaction and you pay the fee again). Of course, you can only extend your time where it’s allowed; if the area has a maximum allowable parking time, you can’t exceed it. Monthly discounts are available. Parkmobile offers apps for iPhone, Android, Windows, Blackberry and mobile web.

park mobile ribbon cutting

A ribbon-cutting ceremony for Parkmobile.

Once you are enrolled, using the service is as easy as parking your car and keying a four-digit location ID into the app on your phone. Or, if the local parking authority has opted for QR technology, you can scan a QR-coded sticker on the meter. No smart phone? You can dial into a toll-free number instead and enter the ID that way. You can also use the app to exit a participating parking lot by scanning your ticket. Or you can generate a QR code for gate entry.

The service can be used by corporate fleets, with the added benefit of generating reports on usage by individual or vehicle or whatever other parameter you like.

For municipalities and other parking facilities, there’s no start-up fee and no investment in new meters; small Parkmobile stickers are affixed to existing meters. Metal street signs inviting motorists to pay for parking by phone are added to the regular parking signage. A number of municipalities have reported issuing fewer parking tickets, but say that, contrary to what you might expect, revenues are up because meter compliance is so easy. Parkmobile is also used to coordinate permit parking.

Testing Parkmobile

I signed up the other day and so far have used the service to run a quick errand.

• Here’s what I didn’t like: I must have made a typo when I registered, because the system didn’t let my credit card number go through to begin my parking session. Nor could I find a way to check the error on the app screen, let alone correct it. It cost $3.50 to speak to a live service rep—which seemed like a lot, considering that I had just signed up. The rep couldn’t tell me what I had done wrong, but she was able to enter a second credit card for me.

• Here’s what I liked: After the service rep had straightened everything out, Parkmobile worked like a charm. I entered the location ID and the number of minutes for my parking session, took care of my errand, and shortly before my time was up, I got a warning email on my phone. I got another email when my allotted time had passed.

Potential users should also know that the service can’t process refunds if you make an error. You have to take that up with the local parking authority.

Apparently, some users like Parkmobile so much they want to tell the world. Parkmobile has obliged them with an optional “Tweet this” function, which is currently available in the iPhone app. It’s coming to Android soon.

Category: Parking Tech

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