Politics Special

Smartphone app makes it easier to pay downtown parking fees

Updated: 2014-02-16T06:39:23Z

By LYNN HORSLEY

The Kansas City Star

Anyone who parks at a downtown Kansas City meter knows the drill. Search your pockets or purse for loose change, and pray your meeting finishes before you have to feed the meter again.

But now there’s a pay-by-phone option.

Kansas City is contracting with Parkmobile, an Atlanta-based company that offers mobile payment options for parking in 100 cities and for universities in 35 states.

Stickers with information about the new program are on 1,400 meters in Kansas City’s downtown business district, in the Crossroads, Hospital Hill and a few in the West Bottoms.

Brent Paxton, executive vice president with Parkmobile, said that as smartphones proliferate, the company is “riding that wave” in offering mobile payment for parking, just as it is available for countless other purchases.

The city decided to go this route because fewer and fewer people carry change with them, said Kansas City’s parking manager, Bruce Campbell.

“People do business by their credit cards and smartphones,” he said.

It’s also a likely benefit to the city. Paxton said many cities see as much as a 20 percent increase in payments above normal meter collections. However, coins will still be accepted.

Stickers on the meters explain the program, but drivers also can sign up before they get to the parking space by calling 877-727-5973 or by going to www.parkmobile.com. They can download the mobile app and create an account, providing a cellphone number and the license plate number of the car or cars to be enrolled.

It’s available at any metered spot with the Parkmobile sticker. Users put in the space number and zone where the meter is, note the amount of time they need and confirm payment. The amount paid won’t appear on the meter, but parking enforcement officials will know what’s been paid.

There is a fee for the service. Parking at a Kansas City meter generally costs $1 per hour, with a standard parking limit of two hours, so the maximum cost of feeding the meter for those spaces would be $2.

If the motorist uses Parkmobile, the service fee per transaction (regardless of the time parked) would be 45 cents if the person uses a credit or debit card. It’s 35 cents if the person uses Parkmobile wallet, a feature on the company’s website.

Paxton said one benefit is that if a person is in a meeting, the service can send an email or text when there’s 15 minutes left on the parking session. The person can then add more minutes by phone, if the car is not going to exceed the maximum parking spot time limit.

Paxton said similar services are also available at the University of Kansas in Lawrence and at the University of Missouri in Columbia. The company is close to signing a citywide contract in Columbia.

Campbell said Kansas City also is exploring a reservation system for its parking garages, where someone can reserve a parking spot ahead of time, with online and mobile payment options. The city is reviewing proposals from several companies for that service and hopes to get that going this spring.

While the city is trying to make parking downtown easier, it is also beefing up enforcement and writing more tickets against drivers who park illegally or exceed their parking time limits. Police said they are currently hiring six new parking control officers, after several years of minimal staffing and lax enforcement of downtown parking.

To reach Lynn Horsley, call 816-226-2058 or send email to lhorsley@kcstar.com.

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