Pay by Cell Launched in Vancouver, Canada

Phoebe Yong

Ralph Yeomans had a problem. He needed to expand the service his Parking Operations and Enforcement branch in Vancouver, Canada, offered its citizens, but he didn’t have a budget to invest in pay-and-display equipment. His solution – pay by cellphone deployed on all 8,000 on-street metered spaces.
As a result, customers were offered a convenient, cashless payment option; receipts for expensing purposes; and text reminders prior to parking time expiration. Wear on existing meters and maintenance and collection costs will be reduced in the foreseeable future. Parking revenue has increased as fewer people opt not to pay.
At 157 people per hectare, Vancouver, British Columbia, has one of the highest downtown population densities in North America and relies on effective management of its complex network of rush routes and arterial roads to keep its population moving.
In 2000, the city’s Parking Operations and Enforcement branch devised real-time wireless data transfer technology for its hand-held ticketing devices in order to improve the efficiency of its operations. Its 100 parking enforcement officers (PEOs) are now able to retrieve crucial ticketing, permit and vehicle information from the city’s databases; send real-time updates for seamless follow-up; and simultaneously dispatch tow-trucks.
Partly as a result of its increased efficiency, the city brought in close to $40 million in revenue in 2006 from parking management alone – $27 million collected from its 8,000 on-street allotments and $13 million from fines.

The Challenge
In that same year, the city looked for a way to use real-time technology to improve service for its customers. “Real-time technology opens the door to possibilities that cities never had before,” says Yeomans, manager of Parking Operations and Enforcement. “We realized we could use the technology to run a pay-by-cellphone parking system on our city streets.”
Until then, customers who wished to park on-street had to have the right amount of change or a credit card on hand. If their appointments ran overtime, they had to rush back to the meter to deposit additional coins or run the risk of being fined. Additionally, motorists could not park at vandalized or broken meters, and those who parked along a rush route during rush hour risked being towed or fined.
Faced with the increasing cost of operating and maintaining its existing infrastructure, of theft, and of a high amount of credit card fraud, the city recognized the need for an alternative to coin-operated parking.
“You’re looking at $200 per meter a year in maintenance costs, $1,000 for each new meter head or $20,000 for the pay-and-display machines other cities use that can easily be vandalized and cause the whole block to be out of service,” says Yeomans. “Pay-by-cellphone parking has the potential to eliminate these costs, increase efficiency in parking operations and provide more convenience for customers. It’s part of the new generation of technology that has the potential to make on-street equipment obsolete.”

The Solution
On June 25, 2006, the city deployed pay-by-cellphone. A review team for the city found a vendor most compatible with its requirements. “The other systems we looked at were more complex to use,” says Alain Chan, the branch’s pay-by-cellphone coordinator.
First-time users enter their credit card and license plate information to set up an account online. To park, they simply call the local number featured on the meter, enter the meter location and order exactly as much time as they need, up to the normal limit on the meter. Thanks to real-time technology, PEOs know at once whether the space is paid for when they check the status of a vehicle license plate on their PDAs.

The Results
Since deploying pay by cellphone in the second half of 2006, the city has recorded up to 1,500 transactions a day for on-street parking, surpassing projections of 5% usage for the first year (20% over four years).
“We saw benefits right away,” says Chan. “We are issuing fewer tickets, and a lot of people who did not bother to pay when they were short of coins now pay.” He says the system also offers defense against unwitting motorists who park along rush routes or in restricted zones. “[They] will know as soon as they call in that they cannot park there.” For these motorists, calling in helps them avoid costly towing fees.
No additional training was required to implement the system because the city’s PEOs were accustomed to using wireless ticketing devices. Customer service clerks were simply taught how to help customers set up new accounts. “We had no major problems deploying the service,” says Chan. “We ran trials and tested each function and regulation variation. All our needs were met.”
The city of Vancouver picked Verrus as its pay-by-cellphone supplier.

Phoebe Yong is with Magnolia Marketing Communications.
She can be reached at


Some User Benefits of Pay by Cellphone:
• Eliminates the need to carry change; allows them to buy the time they really need.
• Reduces likelihood of fines by sending a reminder text message before parking expires.
• Allows the user to add parking time without returning to vehicle.
• Provides e-mail receipts and a monthly online statement for expensing purposes.

Some Benefits for the City:
• The ability to accept payment by credit cards without meter upgrades.
• An increase in revenue from businesspeople motivated to pay for parking to get receipts for expensing purposes.
• An offset in maintenance costs arising from increased meter usage (in Vancouver, at a rate of $1 million every year) by an increase in the use of pay-by-cellphone parking.
• A decrease in the amount of meter vandalism and theft as more customers opt to pay by cellphone.
• A decrease in abuse of PEOs now that motorists are offered more parking options.

Article Abstract from August, 2007

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