Pay-by-Plate Easier for Customers And More Efficient for Enforcement
Smarter cities, campuses and parking operators have learned that it is no longer necessary or practical to meter every individual space or to rely on antiquated and labor-intensive visual enforcement methods. Today, “connected” payment and enforcement systems allow reliable, real-time data-sharing, which means customers can park and pay more easily than ever. Compliance has never been higher, and enforcement and maintenance have never been more efficient.
Parking Today sat down with Andreas Jansson, Managing Director of Cale America, to discuss pay-by-plate operations and why the trend of plate-based technology in parking in the U.S. is stronger than ever.
PT: What has brought about the more recent interest in pay-by-plate technology?
AJ: Pay-by-plate technology has different value to different operators.
For example, we met recently with a small, municipal pay-and-display (P&D) customer who wanted to add the plate-entry requirement so that the plate number could be printed on the receipts to prevent customers from giving or selling unused time to another customer.
In larger cities and campuses, operators have realized that plate-based payments are both easier for the customer and much more efficient to enforce, especially in combination with mobile payments.
Current P&D parking operators often heard complaints from their customers who have to walk from their car to the meter then back to their car, sometimes in inclement weather. If the meter is in a parking lot, it’s possible the meter will have a line of patrons waiting to pay.
Pay-by-space operators also had to field complaints, mostly about the inconvenience of remembering their space numbers by the time the patrons get to the meter. It’s easier for customers to remember their plate number, which doesn’t typically change, rather than a space number, which is usually different every time a customer parks.
Pay-by-space operators also have to invest in pavement markings, space numbering on the streets and, in northern communities, space number signs on poles in the sidewalks or cables in parking lots. Signage with pay-by-plate is minimal and pavement markings are not required.
Mobile payments are certainly driving the movement to plate-based payments. This process speeds up the time it takes to pay for parking and alleviates the need to remember their license plate number. In addition, as transactions shift to mobile payments, there are fewer meter payments, and many cities have found that fewer meters are needed when offering a mobile payment option.
PT: Are there real benefits to this technology?
AJ: Pittsburgh became the first city in the country to implement pay-by-plate citywide. We replaced 5,500 coin-operated single-space meters throughout the city with 500 pay-by-plate meters in 2012. The new customer-friendly meters offered pay-by-credit-card convenience, and increased the meter uptime, which reduced complaints and maintenance costs.
One of the first benefits realized was the Parking Authority’s being able to quantify the number of vehicles (plates) that were checked for compliance each shift by each parking enforcement officer. Prior to
pay-by-plate, there were data only on the number of citations issued. Today, enforcement efficiency has increased dramatically and can
Compliance also has improved, and the Parking Authority noted an increase of revenue of nearly 60% in the first five months, with a decrease in the number of citation tickets written. The authority has ordered additional meters since then, and now has more than 1,000 on- and off-street meters with pay-by-plate technology.
Campuses such as Colorado State University (CSU) have used pay-by-plate for visitor parking to complement their virtual permit programs and license plate recognition (LPR) enforcement programs. Gone are the days of having to visually verify every permit sticker or hang-tag, or look at printed receipts displayed on the dashboard of the vehicle.
The license plate is the common denominator for all parking patrons on campus – student, faculty member, on campus staff or a visitor. Mobile payments also have been added this year at CSU as a customer convenience and to reduce demand on the paystations during peak ingress periods in the minutes leading up to the start of class times or events on campus.
PT: What do you see as the real risks or drawbacks of the technology?
AJ: Privacy, latency and plate-entry errors are the key concerns surrounding any pay-by-plate operation. When developing this technology, a potential risk was the handling of stored license plate data. If not handled properly, this can put the patron’s privacy at risk. The system automatically masks or completely scrubs the plate numbers in all transactions stored over a specified number of days.
For example, plate number ABC123 will become ****** in the transaction records and financial report system. Some pay-by-plate customers want the plate numbers scrubbed every 24 hours, while others might retain the plate date for longer periods. But the software was developed to adapt to local privacy policies, enforcement needs and legislation.
Reliable, real-time wireless communication is essential for pay-by-plate. Such a transaction must travel from the paystation to a transaction server, then be updated in just seconds to enforcement server(s), and then wirelessly back to handheld and in-car enforcement hardware. This is a complex system architecture where periodic delays, usually the result of wireless data coverage, could result in a payment not posting promptly.
For customers to trust the system, and for parking enforcement officers to verify compliance accurately, the reliability and dependability of these connected systems have to be very high. Measures are taken to monitor connectivity at all steps along the way and to notify enforcement if communication in a certain area or zone is degraded.
The paystation also can be configured to automatically change messaging to “please display receipt on dashboard for compliance” if it detects that it is unable to communicate in real-time.
An “auto-citation-void” feature was added to allow citations to be canceled if a latent payment for the same plate posts after the citation was written, for example. While latency does not happen often, communication interruptions and degradations are realities of these “connected” environments, and safeguards need to be in place should those scenarios arise.
Customers might remember their plate number, or most of it, but it doesn’t mean that they will always enter it correctly at the paystation! Customers are in a hurry or perhaps trying to pay during inclement weather and mistakes can happen.
Some enforcement technology includes complex algorithms or “fuzzy logic” to detect and account for plate digit omission or transposition, for example. The city of Aurora, IL, implemented a Mifare-card solution for commuters that stores the customer’s plate number on the card itself. With a single tap of the card, the meter reads the plate number and prints a receipt for the parking fee, thus eliminating the need for the customer to remember or manually enter a plate number.
PT: What do you say to a city or campus that is considering a conversion to pay-by-plate technology?
AJ: Public outreach is a key component of any successful pay-by-plate program. While customers adapt quickly to new technology and payment methods, the most successful pay-by-plate programs with the fastest adoption and acceptance rates have included extensive outreach to stakeholder groups, the business community and residents.
With a total replacement of the meter system, it also is important to convey the convenience and continuity of the new system to the public. This is especially important when addressing customer concerns about plate privacy and the dependability of the technology.
Customers need to be able to trust the system, as do the city or campus staff managing the programs. Ongoing education through online media content is very important for visitors and customers using the system for the first time.
All pay-by-plate solutions are not the same, and not all cities and campuses are the same in terms of needs. Check references and verify that proposed solutions and integrations have actually been fully implemented and tested in other communities and campuses.
Contact Andreas Jansson of Cale America through