Pull into a parking spot in Minneapolis’ North Loop and there is a good chance you will be able to pay for your stay without getting out of your car.
The city has launched a new pay-by-phone app for 975 parking spots in the North Loop and downtown, north of Target Field. It’s the first phase of a citywide rollout that will happen later this fall, adding Minneapolis to a growing list of cities using the technology.
Meters included in the MPLS Parking App system are labeled with a special sticker. They explain that drivers can still pay the old-fashioned way — with coins or by credit card — or they can download the app, which is available free in the Apple Store or on Google Play.
Users create an account with their credit card information, phone number, e-mail address and license plate number. When it’s time to park, they punch in the number of their parking space and amount of time they want to park. More time can be added later, so long as it doesn’t go above the time limit listed on the meter. The app will also provide an alert by e-mail or text message when only a few minutes remain on a meter.
The convenience comes at a price: Users pay 25 cents on top of the meter rate per transaction, or 15 cents if they have signed up for a membership with the service. Members pay 99 cents per month. The extra fees go to Parkmobile, the software firm that runs the app.
Still, city officials say they expect the new option will be a hit with drivers. Mark Read, the city’s assistant parking manager, said paying to park by phone looks to be an unstoppable trend.
“I think you’re going to see more and more apps,” he said.
Minneapolis officials signed a three-year contract with Parkmobile last year after putting out a request for companies that could bring the technology to the city. The company was already operating in Minneapolis in a handful of private parking facilities and has contracts with parking providers and municipalities in 42 states. Washington, D.C., Indianapolis, Atlanta and Los Angeles are among the cities using the service for public parking.
In Milwaukee, the service got a full rollout in April and has already attracted thousands of users.
Thomas Woznick, Milwaukee’s parking operations manager, said about 24,000 people signed up for the service in its first three months. In August, that amounted to an average of about 1,100 mobile transactions each weekday — about 15 percent of the total number of public parking payments in the city.
Woznick said it took a couple of months to make sure the system was linked up with the city’s parking enforcement system, but officials have had no problems with technological glitches and almost exclusively positive feedback from users. He said drivers appreciate that they can use the service at all of the city’s meters, including those that had previously only accepted coins.
“The nice thing about the mobile payment solution is it allows that option for payment at all meters,” he said.
Other cities around the country are using similar payment systems operated through different software. But the U.S. still lags behind European cities, which pioneered the technology nearly two decades ago. Back then, the systems required people to call in to make payments.
Donald Shoup, a professor of urban planning at the University of California, Los Angeles, who has extensively studied parking, said mobile parking systems can help ensure more people pay — no more excuses about running out of coins or forgetting to plug the meter — and can help drivers feel more safe when they don’t have to pull out their wallets on the street.
Shoup said some cities are also beginning to offer discounts to residents, which is easier to track when drivers log in with an account that contains their license plate number. Others, he said, have opted to absorb some of the added surcharges.
He said it’s clearly time for cities to think differently about how they gather parking fees.
“It’s odd how slowly parking meter technology has changed,” he said. “The machines you see on the streets … are often identical to what you saw in 1935. What other kind of payment has not changed in 80 years?”