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Is an Alternative Payment System a Way to 'Mint' Money?

John Van Horn

You can pay for your parking by cash, credit card or debit card. But what are the other ways to pay? A group in Toronto has come up with payment options that have some cities and operators taking notice.
Mint Inc. has been developing alternative payment methods for the past few years. One way -- pay-by-cellphone -- is relatively familiar to Parking Today readers. At least one other company, Verrus out of Vancouver, BC, is active in this part of the market offering cellphone payment support.
Each company thinks it has a better mousetrap, but essentially it works like this:
You first sign up as a member of the parking group represented in the city, garage or surface lot. You do that on the spot on your cellphone or on the Internet. You leave your credit card number with the sponsoring company.
Then you simply call a toll-free number and enter in the lot number (or area of the city) where you are parking. That information is found on signs supplied by the pay-by-cellphone vendor. If appropriate, you can enter the amount of time you plan to stay. (This depends on the rules set forth by the city or parking operator.)
That's it. When you return, you drive away. In some instances, you can call and stop your parking charges (assuming you got back earlier that you originally thought). In other cases, the system can call and remind you that you are running out of parking and you can simply add more without returning to you car to feed the parking fees.
Enforcement is done by an enforcement officer downloading license numbers from the central system on either cellphone, PDA or ticket-writing equipment. If the license number is there, OK; if not, a ticket is written. That can be done automatically if the system has been interfaced with enforcement equipment.
Of course, there are other ways to check the vehicles, including license plate recognition systems mounted on enforcement vehicles and cameras on the ticket writers themselves. The beauty of the system is that no hardware or software is required. It's completely virtual.
That's one alternative way to collect money, but what about another?
Working with the City of Toronto, Mint Inc. has developed a parking debit card. It enables the parker to put a certain amount of money on the card and then track its usage. This is perfect for businesses with staff that spends the day in and out of their cars throughout the city. Rather than a ton of receipts each month for expenses, the company gets a printout that shows where the person has parked throughout the month and how much was charged against the card.
Since the card isn't a charge card, the liability of the company can be limited to the amount it wishes to be placed on the card. While this system may seem complicated for some applications -- Mint software makes most of the accounting transparent to the company involved -- it does fulfill a need in applications where businesses have to track employees and where people can't get a credit card for some reason. The system enables them to use cash to charge up the card and then use it for parking and other places that accept it.
"The key to all these different types of payment," says Robert Elensky, CEO of Mint Inc., "is having as much coverage as possible. That is, all types need to be accepted everywhere." In that way, he adds, people will become familiar with all the different ways money is collected for parking and will use the method that best fits their situation. "It's the reporting system that makes the system work," Elensky says. "We are 'device agnostic.' We don't care what type of card one uses or how the parking company, city or facility owner wishes to market the program. We have the information and can process it in any way the customer wants."
Elensky's company is focusing on the major metropolitan areas, working with municipalities, higher ed and private operators to have their array of payment methods accepted throughout North America.
Mint Inc. sees itself as a payment facilitator. In the case of the Toronto Parking Authority, it worked with TPA staff to meet the requirements they had. The main one was that the Authority wanted to ensure that it had a record of all transactions on its central systems, as well as on Mint's. The credit card approach made this possible, as the cards are processed through the TPA's normal online processing system; however, those records are sent to Mint, rather than to the processing company.
"I wanted to have a record in my system of all transactions," said Maurice Anderson, head of the Authority. "This way I can do it and give my customers the accounting reports and payment flexibility they want."

Article Abstract from April, 2005




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