Traverse City Record-Eagle

January 18, 2013

Traverse City considers meters paid by cellphones


TRAVERSE CITY — Barb Day hurried through the cold and slush to her car. She knew her parking meter time had expired and she worried about finding a ticket on her windshield.

Day could dally over lunch a bit longer if city officials adopt a plan to allow motorists to use cellphones to pay for parking meters. The proposed system sends users a text message 15 minutes before the meter time expires and would have allowed Day to continue to enjoy the restaurant's warmth.

"How awesome," said Day of Leland and Saginaw. "I'd go for it. This is the only place I ever go that has meters and it's a hassle trying to find quarters."

The meters won't physically change under the new system, and people such as Courtney Harris of Onekama can still feed the meters with loose silver.

"It's faster for me to do it the old-fashioned way — just pull some change from my purse," Harris said. "But for those who want to do it, I think it's great."

City officials suggest the Downtown Development Authority, which runs the city parking system, ink a deal with Parkmobile USA, an international company that already works with more than a dozen Michigan cities, including Petoskey.

The service costs the city nothing. Users would have to pay a 35-cent surcharge on top of the meter cost.

Bryan Crough, DDA director, said the agency has received numerous requests for payment alternatives, especially from tourists who use credit cards or cellphones in other cities.

"I personally would never use my smart phone to pay for a meter," Crough said. "But there's a whole breed of people coming who are shocked when you can't use your phone."

Users would need to set up an account with Parkmobile using a credit card and download Parkmobile's free phone application. Parkmobile will supply stickers for the city meters that include a quick response bar code, also known as a QR code, that users can scan with their smart phone.

Motorists enter the amount of time they want and then walk away. They can add more time later without returning to the car, but can't go beyond the meter's maximum time limit.

Meters will continue to visually show the time expired, but Parkmobile interacts with the city parking attendants' electronic hand-held ticket writers so they know the meter is active.

Parkmobile also provides a toll-free number for people who don't have smart phones.

"They are around in a lot of communities and the feedback is pretty good," Crough said. "For us there is no downside."

The DDA board will discuss a one-year pilot program today before it moves to the city commission for its review in February, Crough said. The goal is to have the system up and running by March 1.