How New York City DOT Delivered a World-Class App to Over 1 Million Users
On October 17th, 2022, residents to New York City awoke to a change in their Monday commute. As New Yorkers from across the 5 boroughs parked their cars to head into work, many opened up their ParkNYC mobile payment app - as they had dozens of times before. Though this time, it was a brand new experience.
ParkNYC was born as a white-labeled app in 2016 when the New York City Department of Transportation (NYCDOT) released its first ever mobile payment option for drivers in the City. The app allowed users to pre-pay a virtual wallet that they could then debit from when making a parking transaction. For the first time ever, users could forgo a visit to one of the City’s 14,000 multi-space pay stations, or ‘muni-meters,’ that had been the only method of payment since 2012. The new payment option was revolutionary in launching the mobility that was to come in the next 6 years.
In 2021, the original vendor’s contract for the ParkNYC app was coming to an end. The NYCDOT initiated a robust procurement process to find the next vendor that would power the newest generation of ParkNYC - one fit for the most populated city in the country. It was time to rehaul and modernize for the people of New York City.
The original ParkNYC app worked well for what residents needed back in 2016. But technology had expanded since then, and the app needed what today’s latest mobility solutions had to offer:
• A pay-as-you-go option. (The old app only allowed you to pre-load a digital wallet.)
• A modern interface that complemented NYC’s fast-paced advancements.
• Fleet management
Later that year, through a competitive bid process, the NYCDOT found the operator that could fulfill the new requirements and take the City to the next era of digital mobility. ParkNYC would now be powered by Flowbird, making the solution in New York City become the largest mobile payment program worldwide.
ParkNYC had already been a recognized brand name for over 6 years and there was no intention of changing it now. This was a win on all fronts. The name had an identity, a following, and a level of trust that was to be expected. The DOT took that leverage and built on it.
Weekly Zoom meetings brought together DOT members throughout the City, along with Flowbird representatives, where the project team vigorously outlined details of the app design, functionality, user experience - even down to the right color and sizes of map icons. No stone was left unturned. It was all or nothing to create a world-class app for a world-class City.
With the help of a New York based woman-owned marketing firm, D&S Marketing Agency, DOT’s own internal marketing team, and Flowbird, the revamped brand took off running. A brand new website featured the app’s new slogan, “Pay in a New York Minute,” and it was translated into more than 6 languages including Spanish, Mandarin, Chinese, and Russian to maximize accessibility. The brand was turning into one fit for the City of New York, and it was becoming more alive each day that the launch got closer.
Challenges: Prepare to ‘Go Live’
One of the biggest challenges of moving to a new platform was going to be on ‘Go Live’ day when all users needed to transfer from the old app to the new one.
The old ParkNYC app had roughly 1.5 million users. By switching operators, each one of those users would need to transfer over to the new app platform in just a few hours - and there was no magic button.
“The ParkNYC brand was already there and trusted,” said Toni Turcic, Executive Director, NYCDOT, “We were able to keep the name, but we were in a unique situation. The technology needed to switch over nearly 1.5 million accounts and account balances to the new platform.”
To do this, ParkNYC app users were given an option. On the day the app went live, users would open their ParkNYC app like they normally would. A pop-up message would appear informing users that they needed to create a new account with their previous log-in information. They could choose to restore any wallet funds to the new app platform, or have it refunded back to them. They would then be led into the new ParkNYC app and experience.
Should be simple, right?
(Disclaimer: it is never that simple.)
All Eyes on NYC
To deliver the world-class mobile app that the DOT envisioned for the City, it took just that - top developers from around the world. Flowbird called on their top talent from America, France, Sweden, the Netherlands and beyond to make ParkNYC 2.0, the relaunched mobile app that would be both technologically robust and user-friendly.
In France, Yvain Malsot, Head of Mobile Product, played a key role in the consistent interaction with the DOT, reviewing all end-user flows and experiences. In the final months leading up to the launch, his team focused on the migration experience and ensured that all existing individual and fleet account users were able to transfer seamlessly to the new ParkNYC platform with just a few clicks.
“The partnership between Flowbird and the DOT was crucial,” said Malsot, “There was a sense that we were working as one, single team for the largest parking operation in the world. We all had the same goal: to provide the best, easy-to-use app to NYC’s motorists.”
One of the most important factors that both the NYCDOT and Flowbird knew they had to get right was: Customer Support.
With New York being one of the most diverse populations in the world with over 200 different languages spoken, the customer support team needed to be robust. Jeff Nethery, Flowbird’s Product Support Director, prepared his team with multi-language support.
“We utilized a service that could interpret for hundreds of languages - almost any language in the world - so that all ParkNYC customers could be assisted in their language,” said Nethery.
A dedicated ParkNYC support team was also created and just like training for a marathon, they took nearly 6 months to prepare. The team took practice calls and had their own department purposely flooded to gauge call times. When the call volume got too high, they brought in their reinforcements, an additional call center that was on stand-by if ever they needed more staff. With all of their training, would it be enough come “D-day” when the app launched? The clock was ticking.
On the morning of October 17th, 2022, ParkNYC team members from around the world had already been awake for hours, waiting for the first transactions to go through that meant, ‘Yes - app users were transitioning to the new platform successfully.’
The first transaction went through at 4:17AM. A message rang out from the project team on the edge of their seats in New York City: “The City is waking.”
One-by-one, more and more transactions went through. Users were migrating successfully as peak rush hour came and went. By the end of the day, 44,000 users had successfully moved over to the new app.
As expected, the support line was full with questions from New Yorkers using the app for the first time - some had forgotten their original log-in information, some wanted to be sure their funds were being transferred. But the team was ready. Most calls were resolved in under 5 minutes, a number that’s nearly unheard of in tech support.
4 Months Post-Launch
Nearly 120 days post app launch, the planning and preparation from the NYCDOT and Flowbird can be seen in the numbers alone. There are just over 1 million ParkNYC accounts active on the new platform with nearly 10 million parking transactions processed.
As for the new and improved features, the app ratings speak for themselves. Today, the app stands at a 4.7 star rating with 43k reviewers touting the refreshed look and feel.
From here, the NYCDOT team plans to use this as the first step to make parking even easier for residents, visitors, and businesses in NYC.
“We ask ourselves daily, what can we do to make parking less painful for New Yorkers?,” says David Stein, Director of Parking Planning and Policy, NYCDOT, “Everyone has a parking story or complaint. Making payment both seamless and intuitive is integral to building trust with our customers and makes the process one less thing to worry about when parking in the City.”
Julianne Wilhelm, VP or Marketing, US – Flowbird --VP of Marketing, U.S.