Next year Seattle’s citizens likely will have another option when it’s time to feed their parking meters. The city of Seattle is looking to implement a real-time “pay by cellphone” system for street parking in mid-2012.

Once the pay by phone system is up and running, drivers will have the option to download a free app for their smartphone and register their personal information — including their name, address, vehicle license plate number and credit card number — into the app. Once registered, the driver’s information would be saved for future use.

After drivers park their vehicles, they’d pay electronically on a mobile device by entering a four-digit code located at kiosks currently used as the city’s primary means of taking payments.

“It’s actually more of a convenience for the citizen versus standing in the rain, trying to pay,” said Doug Lancia, Seattle’s parking enforcement supervisor. “So really it’s about giving the citizens another way to pay so that it’s more convenient.”

The four-digit code will be the same for all parking spaces on a particular block. The drivers then will punch the code into the app and make an electronic payment to park in a spot on that block, Lancia said. If drivers don’t want to download the app, they can dial a 1-800 number to make the payment.

The app will charge an additional 25- to 35-cent convenience fee to the cost to park, but the city hasn’t decided if the city or the citizen will pay those fees. While the project is tentatively scheduled for implementation spring of 2012, that vendor that will provide the app hasn’t been selected yet.

As the payer’s allotted time in a parking space nears expiration, the person will receive notification that time is almost up.

When parking enforcement officers check which vehicles are paid for along a city block, they will use a device with Web access that can track the license plate numbers of vehicles that have already paid, Lancia said. The new technology should make enforcement work more efficient.

When pay by phone goes live in Seattle next year, the city will be among a handful of U.S. metropolitan areas using mobile payment technology. New York City is reportedly testing similar pay by phone technology. Last month Norwalk, Conn., launched Parkmobile, an app that allows drivers to pay for parking spaces through smartphones. According to CTPost.com, at the time of the launch, the mobile app parking payment capability was available for “more than half of the 4,000 spaces administered by the Norwalk Parking Authority.” Houston officials also announced a pay by phone system last month.

Multiple Payment Integration

Paying for street parking with smartphones won’t be the end of manual parking payments in Seattle. Current payment methods won’t disappear. In some areas of the Seattle, drivers can pay for parking at kiosks and put a receipt of the payment on their dashboard to show they’ve paid.

In other areas, drivers can “pay by space” at a kiosk and don’t need to put a receipt in their car. For these pay-by-space areas, the enforcement officers have online access to a list of each block’s parking spaces that have and haven’t been paid for. Spaces that have been paid for are marked green; others show up in red. For the spaces marked red, the officers check those spaces to see if the space is actually empty or if a driver has parked there but hasn’t paid.

Lancia said Seattle plans to integrate the “pay by space” and “pay by cell” systems so the parking enforcement officers can see the data on both payment systems by using a single device.

Sarah Rich, Staff Writer Sarah Rich  |  Staff Writer

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. Since 2010, Sarah has written for Government Technology magazine and covers a spectrum of public-sector IT topics, including cloud computing, transparency, broadband, and other innovative projects and trends. She currently lives in Sacramento, Calif.