West Palm Beach Rings In New Year With “Pay-by-Cellphone’ Success


West Palm Beach Rings In New Year With “Pay-by-Cellphone’ Success

When on-street parkers in West Palm Beach, FL, use their cellphones to pay for their parking the first time, they get a surprise: Their parking is free!
They simply call the number and are told that their parking “this time” is at no charge, but they should sign up online. They are sent a text message with the web site address. They can then sign up conveniently at their home or office, and then be ready to park using their cell on their next visit.
Parking meters in West Palm Beach can now be “fed” by coins, meter cards and cellphone calls. Since Nov. 1, 2006, drivers no longer have to look for change; they can simply call a local number and pay for their parking at on-street meters by cellphone.
The drivers register their cellphones and a credit card or PayPal account with New Parking’s Cell Parking program. An advantage for the parkers is that there is no sign-up or transaction fee. In addition, the revenue information is downloaded into the city’s parking meter management software, WinEMU, as supplied by MacKay Meters, for added audit control and overall system reconciliation.
This additional way to pay for parking has been the newest step in the city’s planned program to help provide more convenience for its parking customers.
Mayor Lois Frankel said: “I think it’s a great system. I signed up for it before the system came online, and love how easy it is to use. It’s convenient, fast and simple. It’s a great system for the motorists and the downtown businesses.”
With the support of city administration, the Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Development Authority, the program was introduced during a press conference in October. The media coverage and on-going publicity and promotions have contributed greatly to the success of the program.
Sue Olley, Parking Administrator, said she expected 400 transactions the first month on the 1,500 citywide parking meters. Instead, they had 400 transactions the first week, and finished the first month with 1,300 transactions. The second month finished at 1,700 transactions, with repeat users accounting for more than half of the transactions.
For the city’s enforcement system, the preferred PDA carried by the officer is a wirelessly enabled Palm Treo. On the web browser display of the Treo, enforcement officers see which meters have been paid by cellphone. No special application is required to run on the enforcement devices.
According to Olley, because of the simplicity of the program, the costs to implement it were minimal. “We had to re-label each meter to provide clear space identity; purchase three wirelessly enabled Palm Treos (three were donated); and do some manual data entry” to activate site locations in the Cell Parking and WinEMU parking meter management systems.
Total costs for implementation of Cell Parking on the system was approximately $5,000. Ongoing costs to the city are minimal and directly related to use of the system.
Olley said the benefits of the program over the capital expenditure savings were immediately apparent. “Our customers were able to park downtown, use a credit/debit card in a familiar parking system, and be charged only for the time they were there,” she said. “They can now “feed the meter’ from the comfort of their office, if they are parked in a zone that allows the vehicle to remain in one spot.”
Citation appeals also have been made even easier. “If a person paid by cellphone and said they had paid through a certain time, report detail allows us to check that to the second,” Olley said. “We can show the individual when [the parker] started the transaction and when it finished. The end user also receives a detailed statement of Cell Parking system use, through e-mail, at month’s end for expense and tax claims.”
Olley said the implementation of this program was another step in the city Parking Administration’s search for ways to improve the parking experience for residents, workers and visitors alike. Future initiatives with the Cell Parking program include on-street validations, text messages for expiring meters and a tell-a-friend promotion.

Sue Olley can be reached at solley@wpb.org.
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Article contributed by the Parking PT team.
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