It has happened to all of us at one point or another. You’re sitting in a meeting, a restaurant or a movie, and it hits you: “Oh shoot, I need to refill the parking meter.”

Typically, that sparks a mad dash to the street in order to make it to the meter before your time runs out. Well, a new service that’s coming to Seattle could help solve that problem.

It’s called PayByPhone, and recent drivers (and parkers) in Vancouver, B.C. know just how it works. Basically, the app allows drivers to pay the meter with their mobile phones, and then set a text message alert notifying them if time is about to run out.

Today, it was announced that The City of Seattle plans to introduce the new payment service at about 13,000 on-street paid parking areas. For those who don’t download the PayByPhone mobile app (for Android, BlackBerry and iOS), users can call a toll-free number in order to institute payment. Users, who have entered their credit card information and license plate number, make a payment by entering the block’s unique location number and the amount of parking time desired.

That information then syncs with the parking enforcement officer’s handheld device,  allowing them to peruse whether certain vehicles have paid up on the blocks they patrol. The service won’t replace the traditional green kiosks now found on Seattle streets, but PayByPhone’s Chris Morisawa tells GeekWire that the service does offer added convenience.

In addition to the text message alerts and automatic repayments, Morisawa said that customers can pay from wherever they are.

“If it is raining, I can do it in the car. Or, if I am late for a meeting, I can do it while I am walking,” said Morisawa.

The PayByPhone service does have an added charge of 35 cents per transaction, but Morisawa said that’s a small fee when faced with the expense of a parking ticket. In Vancouver, B.C. — where PayByPhone was founded — the city actually absorbs the costs of the transaction fee. And in Westminster, England the city has pulled its physical parking meters altogether, switching entirely to the PayByPhone service.

That won’t be happening in Seattle, at least for now. Drivers will still be able to pay via the traditional parking meters, which require users to insert a payment card (and wait a good 30-60 seconds in my experience) for the receipt which needs to be affixed to the window (often leaving a sticky residue and paper clutter in one’s vehicle).

Morisawa said cities like the idea of PayByPhone because it reduces the need for meter maintenance and their handling of coins and cash. It also makes the job of the meter reader far easier.

However, doesn’t it also reduce a revenue stream for cities? After all, it has always been my belief that parking enforcement officers help bring in much-needed funds for cash-strapped cities.

We will see how it plays out when PayByPhone arrives in Seattle this fall.

In fact, some in Seattle have already been able to use the service, since it was first deployed in the city at the private parking lots of Impark and Republic Northwest. Because of those roots and the proximity to Vancouver, Morisawa said that they are thrilled to bring the service to the City of Seattle, one of the company’s larger implementations (Vancouver and Miami have about 8,000 parking spaces utilizing the service, while San Francisco has about 30,000).

“We have been working on it a for a long time,” said Morisawa.

Here’s a closer look at how it works:

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  • Zachary Cohn

    I don’t have any specific citations to back this up, but it’s been my understanding (after hearing from multiple officials in multiple cities – Seattle included – that cities actually make FAR more on parking turnover than they do on parking tickets. The tickets are just there to deter people from overparking and to encourage turnover.

  • Guest

    “Refilling” the parking meter is not allowed…

  • davidds

    The iPhone PayByPhone app was super convenient in my trip to San Francisco. There are also parking lots around Pioneer Square that support PayByPhone as well as their competitor CallToPark. The parking meter app does not allow refills at the same location for 20 minutes – you need to move your car to a different meter and pay with that meter code number. You get a notification when your parking is about to expire but apparently so does the police man giving tickets. In SOMA, I moved my car one space over because I couldn’t refill the same meter. A few minutes later, I witnessed a police man stop beside my rental car and validate my parking. You are guaranteed to get a ticket if you use paybyphone and stay too long.

  • MW

    Seattle Municipal Code – 11.76.020 Parking longer than time limit.

    It is unlawful for any person to park a vehicle in any parking space for a consecutive period of time longer than that limited period of time for which parking is lawfully permitted in the parking space as indicated in the legend on the parking meter or pay station, irrespective of the amount paid; provided, that the restrictions in this section shall not apply on Sundays and parking holidays; and provided further that the restrictions in this section shall not apply to the parking of certified carpool vehicles in
    accordance with the provisions of Section 11.23.410.

    • Robbin Block

      Right, and most meters in Seattle are for only 2 hours, then you must move the car to another block. This limit makes you want to go elsewhere to do business and to shop. Unless I’m mistaken, the service won’t fix this problem.

      • Chris (PayByPhone)

        That’s exactly right Robbin. Unless the City changes their time restrictions, there’s nothing we can do.

        • Robbin Block

          I know this is a little off-topic, but It’s really unfortunate that it’s become so difficult to negotiate downtown Seattle, as well as the other neighborhoods that have added such restrictive parking. I find myself making appointments, shopping or eating where I can park for free. It’s bad for the small businesses that don’t have their own spaces. If you’re a commuter it’s one thing, but if you’re not, forget it.

          • johnhcook

            I totally agree, and I really can’t stand the new 8 p.m. restrictions in much of the city. I guess it does keep me closer to home, shopping and spending time in my own neighborhood.

          • Robbin Block

            For a town that eats dinner early, that 8pm limit certainly does put a restriction on things. And why pay almost $10 more just to park when there are great restaurants all over the city? Plus, who finishes a nice meal in exactly 2 hours? It’s just sad. Plus it limits crossover between neighborhoods, which is a big part of Seattle’s charm. I know I’m beating a dead horse, but obviously it’s a big pet peeve of mine.

          • FrankCatalano

            In my case, it has me thinking twice about attending any tech networking events in 8 p.m. metered zones. Which can’t be good for the events’ draw.

  • Chris (PayByPhone)

    The PayByPhone service will follow the City of Seattle’s parking time restrictions and rates. There will no difference between the pay & display meter and PayByPhone. For example, if a certain block has a 2 hour max stay, the PayByPhone system will be configured to only allow vehicles to pay for up to 2 hours of parking.

    • FrankCatalano

      So, technically, you could use PayByPhone to refill a meter, if your original paid time was less than the max time allowed (e.g., two hour space, paid for one hour, need another hour later because a meeting ran long). If that’s the case, it could help people like me who now frequently “over buy” metered space, just in case we need it.

      • johnhcook

        That’s right Frank. I spoke to the PayByPhone team about this, and as Chris notes above they must follow the codes of the city. However, let’s say you put in 1-hour on a meter that allows for 2-hour parking, and then the business meeting runs long. You then could add another hour via PayByPhone without leaving the comforts of the office.

        I’m looking forward to given this a try once the pilot starts this fall.

  • RobertinSeattle

    All of this simply proves once again that parking in the City of Seattle is a scam stacked against drivers by playing the odds that you will “overpark” and they actually make their revenue from fines and NOT parking fees. Other cities like Vancouver BC have had mobile parking for years and run them fairly and successfully for all involved. Would love to see the real stats of Parking Revenue vs Fine Revenue broken out. Anyone want to take bets on which is the real moneymaker?

    So which municipality do your readers find to be the most egregious, John? Seattle? Bellevue? Or how about one of my all-time favorites? Kirkland? iI think Kirkland Municipal Courts are among the busiest. I’ve persoanlly gone and fought a couple of nasty tickets up there myself – successfully – just on principle alone.

  • Mike_Acker

    the hackers are gonna love this one

  • BA in WA

    Finally! SF & Vancouver have had this app for ages. No more standing in line, no more sticky window receipts & no more parking fines (enter text message reminders). Can’t wait to use it in Seattle.

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