Pay by Cell Test Running in Chicago
May, 2008Halfway through an interview Bea Reyna-Hickey, Director of the Department of Revenue for the city of Chicago, got that glint in her eye and remembered the person that a reporter had mentioned a few minutes before. She had personally interceded on a parking citation improperly written during the test of the city’s latest technological advancement, the use of pay by cell phone and in-car meters to provide parking services to its residents. “I remember him, he didn’t follow our instructions.”
Reyna-Hickey, who is responsible for collecting much of the taxes that pay for the city’s services, sees metered parking not only as an income producer for her city, but also as a service that the city must provide in the best possible way.
“When we started to move away from single space meters and to Pay and Display, we had decisions to make. They were operational, service oriented, as well as technological. We elected to go with Pay and Display for a number of reasons, some having to do with our residents’ needs, some with the streetscape and our merchants. It’s important to blend and balance everyone’s needs as much as possible.”
Now, Reyna-Hickey’s department is in the final phase of a 1000 person test of a pay by cell phone system using in-car meters. Why both? We have seen in many communities where Pay by Cell works very well on its own.
“We have a unique situation here in Chicago,” she said. “Most of our citations are visually enforced, and hand written by the police. Citations are written by our own enforcement staff using handhelds. The in-car meter allows for visual parking enforcement similar to pay and display meter receipts. To require the police, for instance, to carry an additional piece of equipment on their belts to identify whether a meter is expired, would not be realistic at this time. Our police are there to protect and serve first, and write tickets second. The in-car meter system we are testing allows the police officer on the beat, or the parking enforcement aide to do their jobs without any changes.”
When the motorist uses their cell phone to purchase parking, the system sends a message to the meter in their vehicle and sets the display with the payment zone selected and the time by which the car must be moved. The officer then simply looks at the meter and can write the appropriate citation in their normal manner, should the meter be expired.
The system also gives the motorist the ability to compare the citation with their monthly record of parking charges. If the ticket was written at 3 PM, and the record shows that the parking purchased expired at 2:30, there is little question that an issued citation is valid. Conversely, should a ticket be issued in error, the motorist has proof of paid status.
According to records, the city has collected nearly $60,000 in meter fees since inception of the pilot program in October 2007. “It’s working well,” Reyna-Hickey said. “People seem to love it.”
Pay by cell has a lot of advantages particularly in climates like the Windy City. Drivers can make their payments in the warmth of their car. They can also be notified when their time is about up and can “top up” their payment from the present location, if they like. However, all metered parking time restrictions still apply.
One of the issues merchants have with parking is that the parker can be in the middle of a major purchase, but then have to go feed the meter. That could mean a lost sale. The pay by cell phone alleviates that issue.
As for the errant motorist she personally helped. “We knew the pilot system would have a few bugs so we set up a special in-car meter toll free number for customers to call with any problems. We have staff on hand to handle any issues brought up by the new system. In this case, the motorist was correct. The ticket was issued in error, and has since been withdrawn. This could have been resolved more quickly if the motorist had called the in-car meter customer service number, but we were happy to resolve the matter.”
Note: The Vendor used in the Chicago Test was Park Magic.