Park­ing me­ters go high-tech

Pay­ment apps, cam­eras that keep tabs on your car now do the count­ing for you

USA TODAY International Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Jefferson Gra­ham @jef­fer­songra­ham USA TO­DAY

It’s eas­ier to pay and avoid tick­ets when you get a count­down on your phone with an audi­ble alert.”

Kristo­pher Carter, co-chair of the Mayor’s Of­fice of New Ur­ban Me­chan­ics in Bos­ton

The last coin-op­er­ated me­ter was yanked out of the Port­land, Ore., down­town area in 2016 and now re­sides in a local his­tor­i­cal mu­seum. To­day, visi­tors to the down­town area’s 1,900 park­ing spots are wel­comed by the Port­land “Park­ing Kitty,” a high-tech me­ter that con­nects to a smart­phone app. The app purrs when you pay and “me­ows” 15 min­utes be­fore your time ex­pires to re­mind you to get back to the car or to re­quest and pay for ad­di­tional time.

High-tech park­ing isn’t unique to Port­land, and it’s prob­a­bly com­ing to a me­ter near you. Coin me­ters have given over to dig­i­tal me­ters in eight of the top 10 U.S. cities, with var­i­ous lev­els of so­phis­ti­ca­tion. Me­ters that be­gan with pay-by-phone have ex­panded to a cur­rent mix of pay via credit card and/or apps.

The next phase of the tech­nol­ogy, which uses cam­eras to au­to­mat­i­cally track your park­ing via li­cense plates and charge your ac­count, has now started to roll out in some cities. It’s al­ready raised some con­cerns over pri­vacy.

The Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union, on its web­site, notes that li­cense plate read­ers are used for way more than mak­ing park­ing eas­ier. They’re also track­ing our ev­ery move.

The read­ers “have the po­ten­tial to cre­ate per­ma­nent records

of vir­tu­ally ev­ery­where any of us has driven, rad­i­cally trans­form­ing the con­se­quences of leav­ing home to pur­sue pri­vate life, and open­ing up many op­por­tu­ni­ties for abuse.”

For cities, the in­cen­tive is big: higher rev­enues and fewer hu­man re­sources de­voted to check­ing me­ters. And the apps (ParkMe, SpotHero) also give driv­ers ad­di­tional perks, such as tools to find open spa­ces or re­mind you (Parker) where you parked.

“Ten years ago the park­ing in­dus­try didn’t have all these op­tions. We’re try­ing to evolve as quickly as pos­si­ble,” says Mal­isa McCreedy, di­vi­sion man­ager of the Port­land Bureau of Trans­porta­tion. Launched in May, Park­ing Kitty rep­re­sents 6% of Port­land’s park­ing trans­ac­tions.

As con­sumers’ fi­nan­cial op­tions changed, more car­ry­ing plas­tic than coins, the in­dus­try gave pay-by-phone a try. But it’s a com­pli­cated process that re­quires writ­ing down a code ad­ver­tised by the me­ter, call­ing an as­signed phone num­ber and typ­ing in the dig­its and your credit-card num­ber. As such, us­age for the pay-by­phone of­fer­ing is in the “sin­gle dig­its” in Bos­ton, says Kristo­pher Carter, co-chair of the Mayor’s Of­fice of New Ur­ban Me­chan­ics in Bos­ton.

Apps linked to credit cards have been far more pop­u­lar, rep­re­sent­ing 75% of Bos­ton pay­ments.

The ParkBos­ton app, just 2 years old, tal­lied 3 mil­lion trans­ac­tions last year for Bos­ton’s 8,000 spa­ces. Park­ing rev­enue is up, and the is­su­ing of tick­ets is down, Carter adds.

“It’s eas­ier to pay and avoid tick­ets when you get a count­down on your phone with an audi­ble alert,” Carter says.

With apps such as ParkBos­ton, a smart­phone owner down­loads the app, reg­is­ters and stores credit-card in­for­ma­tion. When you park, you type in the code and con­firm the li­cense plate, which iden­ti­fies your car. The av­er­age fee to use the apps to pay is 35 cents on top of the park­ing trans­ac­tion.

Two com­pa­nies dom­i­nate the mu­nic­i­pal park­ing-by-app at me­ters: Char­lotte-based Pass­port, which does the Port­land app, along with apps for Bos­ton, Chicago, Lon­don and other large cities, and At­lanta-based Park­mo­bile, whose app works with me­ters in New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Dal­las and San Jose.

Park­mo­bile is launch­ing later this year in San An­to­nio and Phoenix, and Pass­port is bring­ing its app to the Los Angeles Metro park­ing lots, where com­muters park be­fore land­ing a morn­ing train in to work.

Like the re­cent park­ing app in­tro­duced at tony L.A. shop­ping mall the West­field Cen­tury City, once you down­load the app, you don’t even have to type in a code. Cam­eras rec­og­nize the li­cense plate of the car and bill you ac­cord­ingly.

West­field says the tech­nol­ogy will be com­ing to its other malls in 2018.

“Li­cense plates are where the in­dus­try is headed,” says Bob Youakim, the CEO of Pass­port.

The old way in­volved a park­ing staffer driv­ing up and down the street, look­ing at me­ters to see if you’ve paid in full or not. The com­ing way: just let the cam­era do the work.

“Cities can scan 100 li­cense plates a minute, vs. man­u­ally look­ing to see if your space is paid for or not,” Youakim says.

Many an­a­lysts don’t be­lieve we’ll still have smart­phones 10 years or more from now. We’ll be so far into the fu­ture, many of us could be sit­ting back and have the robot drive us to work in self­driv­ing cars, they say.

DY­LAN RIVERA

DY­LAN RIVERA

PORT­LAND, ORE., BUREAU OF TRANS­PORTA­TION

The Park­ing Kitty app purrs when you pay for your park­ing space and me­ows be­fore your time ex­pires.

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