Friday, March 2, 2012

Feed the meter with a cell phone app

Short of quarters? Next week Charlotte launches a  program to let you use your cell phone to pay for on-street parking.

According to a city memo sent Friday to Charlotte City Council members, the program will have a "soft launch" Thursday and a "hard launch" in April. According to the memo:

The cell-phone-payment system will be available at both parking meters and the pay stations located on some uptown streets.

To use it, you have to register with the Pay by Cell service provider, at Registration is free, although each pay-by-cell transaction costs a 35-cent fee to Parkmobile USA.

To pay, you would:
Find a parking spot. Then either launch a mobile app, access the Internet or call toll-free, 1-877-727-5301. You enter the parking zone number on the meter or nearby sign or the pay-station stall number. Choose the parking time desired.

You could extend the time you choose, via another transaction, but not beyond the two-hour limit.
The city memo cautions that parking meters won't display the payment and time remaining, although the city's handheld ticketing equipment will let ticket agents know the customer's payment.

Will the 35-cent fee deter people? Hard to say: I'm a penny-pincher and I try to keep my ashtray stashed with quarters. But if you're facing a choice of on-street-with-fee or expensive parking deck, 35 cents may be an easy hurdle to take.

An aside: I first saw the pay-by-cell-phone parking fees in Sofia, Bulgaria, and wondered how long before Charlotte began using it. And I have seen pay-by-cell-phone signs posted in some of the privately owned surface lots uptown, so it's clear the technology is finally arriving here.