Washington, D.C. motorists are now able to feed the meter simply by making a call.

The new pay-by-phone-parking program allows drivers to use their mobile phones to pay for a parking space. Through the service, parkers are able to pay only for the time used and receive a text alert before the meter expires.

“The system is very easy to use and makes it very easy for motorists to pay for parking, “said John Lisle, spokesman for District Department of Transportation. “It also reduces the need to carry cash to pay for parking. For the city, we believe it will help reduce the wear and tear on the physical meters and reduce our calls for service for broken meters.”

In a press release, DDOT Interim Director Terry Bellamy said, “We piloted pay by phone parking in select business districts, with great results, and now we’re ready to offer this service citywide.”

So how does the program work?

“Parkers must register with the vendor, Parkmobile, either online or by phone, and provide them with your credit card number, and license plate number,” said Lisle. “Then, when you park you call in or use the mobile app, key in the zone number for the block where you are parked, indicate which car you are using and how long you want to pay for. That’s it.

The system will also send you a text message 15 minutes before your time expires to remind you to add more time or move your car. There is also a small transaction fee between 30 to 35 cents.”

“Parkmobile users have 24/7 access to their online account; they can print reports and easily track their parking expenses,” noted Albert Bogaard, CEO of Parkmobile, in a statement. “It’s much faster and more convenient.”

Customer can also download the mobile application on to their iPhone, Blackberry or Android.

Lisle said the new system is an alternative to the other payment options. “Pay by phone is not intended to replace the physical meters, but rather is an overlay system. It’s not for everyone – many people still prefer to put coins in a meter – but for others who want to pay by credit card this is a simple way to do it.”

Metro areas such as Foggy Bottom, Georgetown Hospital and Ballpark are already using the service. And nearby Montgomery County is implementing the pay-by-cell to 11,000 parking meters. The service was introduced in Bethesda earlier this year and Silver Spring locations were recently completed.

“Pay-by-cell is an added convenience for our customers,” said Esther Bowring, public information officer of Montgomery County. “It gives another way to pay for parking.” First time Montgomery County users can register at www.mc.goparknow.com .

Bowring says that motorists are very enthusiastic about the service.

John B. Townsend, manager of public and government affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic characterizes the program as “E.T phone home.”

“In the past, you had as much a chance of finding an empty parking space, or having enough change in your pocket to pay for parking, as you did of seeing an extra-terrestrial.

Now by dialing seven numbers on your cellphone, you can pay for on-street parking metered parking spaces in the District. This is a high-tech solution to parking woes in the District.”

But even with the additional payment option, the service doesn’t come without a few glitches.

“The system is not perfect,” said Townsend, who added that the system is already active in other big cities including Atlanta and Seattle, and in places like Richmond and Charlotte, and 100 other cities. “In some cities, some consumers have complained they were ticketed minutes before they arrived on the scene to re-activate their meters.”


Tia Lewis

Special to the AFRO