Pay by phone for parking

Phoning it in?

Rehoboth could institute new pay-by-phone meter system

By Ryan Mavity | Jan 23, 2012, Cape Gazette
Photo by: City of Rehoboth Beach Rehoboth Beach officials are close to enacting a plan that would institute a pay-by-phone system that would allow motorists to use their credit card at any meter in the city. As part of the plan, the city would eliminate the credit card slots on the 51 Reino meters on the first two blocks of Rehoboth Avenue, although all city meters will still accept quarters.

Rehoboth Beach — For tourists in Rehoboth Beach, the days of scrounging for quarters to feed the parking meters may finally be over.

City officials are set to adopt a system that allows visitors to feed the meters by cell phone.

The Rehoboth commissioners have given their blessing to contracting with Atlanta-based Parkmobile for the service. The consensus of the commissioners is to approve contracts with Parkmobile at the commissioners’ Friday, Jan. 20 regular meeting.

First, credit card slots on the Reino meters in the first two blocks of Rehoboth Avenue will be removed.

Mayor Sam Cooper said removing the credit card capabilities on those 51 meters saves the city $9,000 in connection fees and will make life easier on the information technology department, which has complained about meter maintenance in the two years credit card meters have been active.

The change requires purchasing 10 new handheld ticket writers that will be compatible with the new system. The new handheld units would have wi-fi capability, a camera and a bar-code scanner.

All the city’s meters will still accept quarters, and Cooper said the pay-by-phone system would come at no new capital cost to the city. He also said there would be no parking meter increase this year.

Under the Parkmobile system, motorists can pay for parking in two ways. Each meter will have a tag on it explaining the system. Customers can set up an account with Parkmobile before they come to Rehoboth or can scan a QR code on the tag that will automatically download Parkmobile’s mobile app and allow the user to set up an account. From there, all the motorist must do is enter the meter location and how much time they want to purchase.

For those not handy with a smart phone, the tag has a phone number on it so users can call in their space and time request.

Parkmobile’s system will confirm the rate and the meter location. The app, which can be downloaded on iPhone, Android and Blackberry smart phones, is designed to send a text when the parking session has 15 minutes left.

The Parkmobile system has been instituted in cities large and small, with recent converts including Nashville, Houston and Norwalk, Conn.

The credi-card system was first instituted for the beach blocks to help make parking there more convenient. However, Cooper said, the system has had problems from the beginning, from troubles with the city’s wireless connection to people just plain not understanding how the system worked.

There is also the cost of accepting credit cards. Cooper told the commissioners the city made $381,000 in revenue just on credit cards. But 15 percent of that revenue went to paying off various fees, including $125,000 in transaction fees – the city paid .45 cents per transaction – and almost $9,000 in connection fees.

The city took in $2.58 million in parking-meter revenue last year. With 2,121 metered parking spaces, Cooper said that averages out to $1,200 per space over 115 days the meters are in effect.

Cooper’s presentation focused on identifying a simple, alternative way for people to pay for parking besides quarters. He identified several options, including a central pay-and-display meter system, already in place at the Rehoboth Beach Convention Center, and a pay-by-space system, which the city has now.

Pay-and-display was ruled out because the city prefers a system with different rates and times, enforcement is slow and the city cannot account for revenue by space. More single-space meters were also ruled out because, among other things, Rehoboth Avenue does not have the infrastructure to support more meters, Cooper said.

One concern was whether the pay-by-phone system would discourage turnover, Cooper said, since users would be able to add time to the meter from the beach if they so desired, even though one of the reasons for having parking meters is to encourage turnover. Cooper also said he believes parking meter revenue will increase under the new system, because it will be easier to pay for parking.

Commissioner Mark Hunker, who works in Washington, D.C., where the Parkmobile system has been implemented, said, “Once you set it up, it’s very quick. It’s great.”

Commissioner Bill Sargent, who has also used the system in D.C., said, “It took about two minutes to sign up. It was very simple and straightforward.”