Making the Transition to Pay-by-Plate a Painless One


Making the Transition to Pay-by-Plate a Painless One

When Aspen, CO, adopted the first pay-and-display (P&D) system for on-street parking in the United States in the mid-1990s, local merchants were outraged. Business owners and many of the thousands of commuting employees staged a “honk in” to protest the city’s decision to change from time-restricted, free parking to some unusual form of pay parking from Europe called pay-and-display.
But the complaints were not about having to display a receipt on the dashboard, or having to walk back to your vehicle in the snow. The complaint was about change – and the concern that customers of this vibrant, upscale business community would not accept such a drastic change.
Months later, the pain was mostly over, and most business owners were thankful for the newly created turnover of prime parking spaces, which previously had been occupied all day with non-paying employees of local restaurants, shops and lodging facilities.
The city also was touting higher sales tax revenues, further showing that the implementation of P&D parking was good for business. Plus, its mostly empty city parking garage soon had a waiting list of local employees looking for an affordable,  off-street parking alternative.
Within the next decade, hundreds of cities in the US followed the Aspen model, from New York City to Chicago to Seattle and many smaller cities in between. The benefits of being able to offer a credit card payment over the old coin-only-style meters and the efficiency of having one meter manage 10 spaces instead of just one space were apparent.
Customers learned to accept that parking was a three-step process: park, pay and display. Enforcement by foot, with sharp-eyed PEOs peering into every windshield, could now spot an expired receipt or a vehicle with no receipt displayed from half a block away.
In 2012, Pittsburgh became the first U.S. city to implement an on-street pay-by-plate system on a large scale, following similar, successful models created in Calgary, Canada, and Amsterdam, the Netherlands. The leap from mostly coin-only single-space meters to a license plate-based system with one kiosk per block face was equal in boldness to the Aspen leap in the ’90s, and was possible only by the advances in integrated technologies
for wireless communications and real-time database for parking payments and enforcement.
As with Aspen’s success with P&D, it took only a few months for business owners and customers to sing the praises of the new system. But in Pittsburgh’s case, the benefits included not only customers being able to pay with a credit card, but they also could pay at any paystation in the system and did not have to walk back to their vehicle to display a receipt. In fact, the receipt was now optional and not required for compliance.
Enforcement efficiencies from checking license plate numbers against the real-time payment database were enormous and much faster than brushing off snow from windshields to find a paid receipt.
Other U.S. cities took notice.
In 2012, many of the requests for proposals (RFPs) for multi-space parking meters asked for pay-by-plate at least as an option, if not the primary mode of operation. One main question that many cities are starting to ask now is how do we seamlessly transition from pay-and-display to pay-by-plate, from both the customer and enforcement perspectives?
The key lessons learned from the Pittsburgh project included the need to educate the customer and to condition them to know their plate number. How many people have their license plate number memorized? Not many, and add in the fact that people drive multiple vehicles, rental vehicles and fleet vehicles, and the challenge grows. Also the enforcement team needed to learn to trust the online payment-status database.
There is a unique, interim blend of both pay-and-display and pay-by-plate parking that allows for a painless transition from one system to the other. Many of the pay-by-plate kiosks can operate in P&D mode, but with the ability for customers to enter their plate numbers. While this adds a step for the customers, it begins to condition them to expect to have their plate number as part of the parking transaction.
From the city perspective, the plate number can now be printed on the parking receipt. This means that the P&D receipt is now valid for only one vehicle, and excess time purchased cannot be given to another customer. This hybrid form of P&D with plate-entry requirement moves the consumer and enforcement staff in the direction of focusing on the plate number for compliance, while immediately increasing parking revenues through elimination of customers’ sharing receipts.
Eventually, the enforcement system can begin to work with wireless handheld devices and license plate-recognition camera technology (LPR) to verify compliance without even checking the receipt, gradually building trust in the new technology by confirming that the live, online data match what is displayed on the receipt. This will naturally lead to the receipt being optional for compliance, and a full transition to a plate-based on-street parking system.
Once a license plate has been entered into the parking system, it becomes a form of identification or barcode to which vehicle activity can be tied during the enforcement process. Parking enforcement officers drive patrol vehicles equipped with LPR cameras to scan the plates of parked vehicles at up to 50 scans per minute. Plate information is passed to a database checking for validity of the parking session, scofflaws, etc.
Should a parking session expire, an alert in real-time is sent to the PEO, who can serve a citation on the spot or use GPS coordinates to dispatch to the nearest officer on foot. The scanned plate, like a barcode, provides instantaneous access to vehicle information independent of visual checks or keystrokes required using the old parking system.
Further, through credit card information and vehicle license plate information, it now becomes possible to provide statistical data to better monitor and manage the utilization of a parking system, as well as better serve merchants and citizens.
Finally, this type of transition also enables cities to easily incorporate the latest virtual permit technology and payment options, including pay-by-phone, where permits and payments are also tied to the vehicle plate number and enforced through a central, real-time database instead
of visually looking at a printed receipt or permit.

Jeff Nethery, General Manager of Cale America, can be reached at Contact Mike Bourre, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Gtechna Inc., at


Article contributed by:
Jeff Nethery and Mike Bourre
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