Press Club

County to Get Pay by Phone Parking Meters

Parking metersComing on the heels of Alexandria’s announcement that it will implement a pay by phone option at parking meters, officials say Arlington County will be doing the same next year.

The county’s Department of Environmental Services (DES) hopes to have the system up and running by the fall of 2014. Right now DES is waiting for the police department to update its parking enforcement system before moving forward.

DES Parking Manager Sarah Stott explained that the handheld devices currently used by parking enforcement officers are not connected to a wireless system. ACPD needs to purchase new wireless handheld devices that are connected to “the cloud” where all the pay by phone information is stored. Once the system is in place, officers can type in a license plate and a message will pop up if the meter user paid by cell phone. Some systems also allow officers to type in a location and instantly know which cars on that block paid by cell phone.

The county has received a number of inquiries about the possibility of installing the system, which Stott says is far more convenient than fishing for quarters or waiting for the current parking kiosks to print a time slip.

“We do get calls asking if we’re going to be getting pay by cell,” Stott said. “I think it will be positive, people will be very happy to get it.”

The county will proceed with finding a system vendor once the police department purchases new handheld units, which may happen by spring or summer of 2014. The three D.C. area jurisdictions with pay by phone capabilities all use different vendors — the District uses Parkmobile, Montgomery County uses MobileNow! and Alexandria will use Pango. Stott said Arlington will examine those vendors and others when determining which the county will choose.

Because no vendor has been chosen, the county is not sure exactly how the system will function. Typically, users with smart phones are able to add time to meters with a credit card via an app or by logging on to a website. Customers who do not have a smart phone should be able to add time by calling a phone number listed on the meter.

An iPark device (photo via Arlington County)The county will still keep traditional parking meters and the kiosks that dispense paper tickets. Despite trouble with a vendor going out of business earlier this year, the iPark system also will remain in place. County Treasurer Frank O’Leary said Arlington was able to purchase the recharge codes for the existing iPark devices so customers can continue to use them. County workers are in the process of finding alternative devices for those who may wish to purchase one in the future. O’Leary likes the idea of providing the public with a number of options for parking payments.

“The more options you give people, the more likely they are to take advantage of the situation,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned there’s no single solution, there are multiple solutions. Give people alternatives and make this as painless as possible.”

O’Leary does not anticipate any issues with the county’s parking meter revenue when the new pay by phone system goes live. In fact, he indicated there’s a chance revenue could increase if more people use the county’s parking spots when they discover the ease of pay by phone.

“I think people will migrate to this rapidly because I don’t think many people like the pay and park, where you have to walk back to your car to put a piece of paper on your dashboard,” said O’Leary. “I don’t think this is going to pose any major headaches.”

It’s unclear exactly how long it will take to implement the pay by phone parking system throughout Arlington; that will be determined once a vendor is chosen. The vendor will work with the county to put up signs explaining the system, and that is often done in phases.

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