New parking meters text you when time’s running outYour cellphone rings. You’ve got a text message. It’s your parking meter calling.
By: Larry Sandler, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Your cellphone rings. You’ve got a text message.
It’s your parking meter calling.
The meter wants to let you know that it’s about to expire. But if you need more time, you can text it back and tell it to charge your credit card for some extra minutes.
Starting this summer, parking meters in Milwaukee and Madison will be exchanging texts just like that with motorists, and the system eventually could make its way to Duluth. It’s the latest upgrade to technology that lets parking meters take credit cards.
Drivers have been able to pay by credit card at some meters for about five years in Milwaukee and about a year and a half in Madison. But meters that send text messages are something new.
“I never would have imagined this even five years ago,” said Bill Knobeloch, Madison parking operations manager.
Duluth parking manager Matthew Kennedy said he knows the new technology well, having used early versions as long as seven years ago. He said using a variety of parking options around the city in trial runs is a possibility as the city streamlines its parking system under the company it hired in April to oversee operations, Interstate Parking Company.
In the Wisconsin cities, motorists park in a numbered space, walk over to a meter that serves multiple parking places and punch in the number of their space. Then they have a choice of paying by cash or credit card for the number of minutes they want.
With the upgraded systems, the meters will ask credit card customers to enter their cellphone numbers if they want a text when their time is running out. Because those motorists already have entered their credit card numbers at the meter, they can respond to the texts with only the number of extra minutes they want, without texting their credit card information, according to Digital Payment Technologies, the Canadian manufacturer of the LUKE meters deployed in Milwaukee.
While Duluth has automated parking in Canal Park and in some ramps, completely new systems would be needed to match the technology, Kennedy said. Right now, the 48 on-street spots in Canal Park require paying at a station and returning to the car to display a receipt as proof of payment. The ramps have pay meters in stairwells that calculate and charge for the time parked and distribute cards to swipe at the exit to the ramps.
Neither could be simply programmed to accept the technology seen in Wisconsin, Kennedy said.
That convenience comes with a cost. In addition to the regular parking rates, Milwaukee customers will pay a 25-cent fee for each extension they authorize by text. That fee will be 45 cents in Madison, which uses meters manufactured by Metric Parking, of Mount Laurel, N.J.
Knobeloch says that’s a good deal.
“How many times have you been somewhere and didn’t want to run back (to plug your meter)?” Knobeloch asked. “To pay an extra 25 cents or 45 cents to save $20 or $30 or whatever the (parking) tickets are … what a service.”
Shirley Krug, administrative services director for the Milwaukee Department of Public Works, also cited customer convenience as a major reason for the change. But the pay-by-phone system can increase revenue for the cities, because more customers will be able to pay on time instead of letting their meters run out, said Alan Menezes, vice president for product management and marketing at Digital Payment Technologies headquarters in the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby, B.C.
Knobeloch agreed meter revenue probably would rise, but added that parking ticket revenue probably would fall.
Kennedy said he will continue to have conversations with downtown and Canal Park business owners and parkers about options for Duluth.
“There’s a tremendous upside for parking in Duluth,” he said of providing convenience for parkers and profit for the city. “We’re talking to everyone.”
News Tribune staff writer Mike Creger contributed to this report.