Chicago Hosts Largest Pay by Plate Rollout in United States


Chicago Hosts Largest Pay by Plate Rollout in United States

It’s a common occurrence: people drive into the city, find a place to park and walk to the closest kiosk to pay. If it’s a pay-and-display machine they then have to walk back to their car to put the ticket on the dash before heading out on their way. Maybe it’s not a big deal, but maybe they’re in a hurry or juggling children or carrying packages. Maybe it’s snowing. Or 100 degrees. And suddenly that little walk is not such a little walk. 

Well, that is all about to change in Chicago with what is the largest rollout of a pay-by-plate parking system in the United States: 4,600 pay-by-plate kiosks covering 36,000 spaces that average about 36 million parking transactions per year. (To give an idea of the scale, the previous largest installation was in Pittsburgh, which installed 1,000 pay-by-plate machines in 2012.) 

The new Flowbird CWT Stealth touchscreen kiosks began being installed on October 1 (and will continue through mid-2019) and offer a solar-powered, wireless experience that includes a large full-color touch-screen interface similar to a tablet. 


Touch Screen Technology 

“Before choosing the latest technology, we performed focus group testing,” said Dennis Pedrelli, CEO of Chicago Parking Meters, the company responsible for on-street parking in Chicago. “The participants really liked the replacement of buttons with touchscreen technology mirroring tablet and smartphone interaction.”

The pay stations physically look similar to the current ones, but with the new touchscreen. Motorists simply type in their license plate number, choose how 

long their parking session will last and use a credit card or coins to pay. They can then opt for either a receipt by text or, should they still choose, paper — but that receipt doesn’t have to be placed on the car.

So far “the feedback has been very positive and we anticipate that to continue,” said Pedrelli. 

Andreas Jansson, vice-president of U.S. sales for Flowbird, reported that as each machine is installed, ambassadors have been on hand to help. “The reports we got back were that people were very satisfied,” said Jansson. “The big color touchscreen is very easy to use and we got very positive feedback from the end users, which is always amazing in a parking situation.” 

Customer convenience
played a major role in choosing
the new system.



 “The new machines were designed with a split screen that offers different rates for commercial loading zones and on-street parking,” said Jansson. “It was fun to see how Chicago took advantage of the latest technology and ran with it to create their own user interface.” 

Positive Effects of New Technology

The biggest change in the move from pay-and-display to pay-by-plate remains the convenience of not having to walk back to the car with the ticket. “No matter the weather, you just walk up to the kiosk, put in your license plate and head off,” said Jansson. Pedrelli said that customer convenience played a major role in choosing the new system. “Previously, someone stopping for, say, a cup of coffee, might risk not paying because of the time to walk back and forth to the car to display their parking receipt,” said Pedrelli. “It will be interesting to see if this new convenience changes an individuals’ habits.” 

The system also provides an efficiency for enforcement officers. “Like many parts of the country, looking through a foggy, wet or snow-covered windshield for a receipt is not efficient,” said Pedrelli, “Officers will now type in a license player number into a handheld device to determine proof of purchase.” 

The kiosks interface with tablets used by the enforcement officers, something they’ve already been using for the ParkChicago app, which was launched in 2014 and allowed parkers to find and pay for parking through their phones.

Now both methods of paying for parking — kiosk and app — will use the same plate technology. “We worked to develop processes so that the enforcement person can use a combination of systems to support both processes,” said Jansson. 

Using the new Flowbird system and ParkChicago, valuable information can also be compiled to feed another new product from Chicago Parking Meters called ParkChicagoMap. ParkChicagoMap uses historical parking information to determine the likelihood of finding parking space on an hourly basis, seven days in advance. 

“ParkChicagoMap is free to download for anybody,” Pedrelli said. “You don’t need to be our customer to determine the best place to park in advance of reaching your destination.”


Environmentally Friendly

The lack of needing a paper receipt has also made the machines more environmentally friendly. “Like the predecessor machines, the new pay stations are solar powered,” said Pedrelli. “And due to the new receipt text feature, we believe that environmentally conscious customers will choose to text their receipt rather than using paper.” 

All of the new technology has one goal in mind: to make the parking experience as convenient as possible for the customers. It’s part of a growing focus on creating smart cities and connected cars. 

“As an industry, parking is part of a city’s ecosystem and needs to interlace with new technologies to help maintain the vibrancy of the city,” said Pedrelli. 


Ann Shepphird is a technical writer for Parking Today. She can be reached at

Article contributed by:
Ann Shepphird
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