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A Strategic Approach to Boosting Mobile Payment

January 11, 2019

Mary Catherine Snyder and Roamy Valera

Life is about choices. And when it comes to paying for parking, drivers expect to be given a choice. That’s why most cities now permit drivers to pay for parking in a variety of ways, including traditional and smart meters for on-street spaces and pay-on-foot and exit cash machines in parking garages. And now, most large cities (and many smaller ones, for that matter) offer a mobile payment option.


In fact, mobile payment is one of the hottest trends in parking. Users appreciate the convenience of being able to pay for their parking session on their smart phones or other devices from the comfort of their vehicles. They also appreciate getting text message reminders when their parking sessions are close to expiring. Paying for parking might not be everyone’s first choice but helping to take the pain out of paying makes it a lot more palatable. 


This convenience has led to dramatic growth in the mobile payment sector in recent years, a trend that will continue as new generations of tech-savvy young people begin driving and use of mobile devices grows. 


The first step was for the city to absorb the customer user fee.


It’s easy to see why cities are rushing to offer mobile payment. Providing customers with a convenient payment option engenders goodwill. In addition, the data that’s generated by mobile payment partners can be used by city managers to run their parking operations more effectively. Over time, the technology also provides more cost control over parking enforcement operations.


Mobile technology can’t provide these benefits if people aren’t using it. It’s not enough to just offer an app and hope people adopt it. Cities and their technology partners need to promote adoption through carefully crafted and implemented strategies.


Widespread Adoption


The City of Seattle has offered mobile payment since 2013. While it has always been a popular offering, city parking staff wanted to boost adoption. In 2017, the city and its mobile technology partner, PayByPhone, created a program designed to increase utilization by 5 percent a year in each of the thirty paid parking zones spread throughout Seattle. 


The first step was for the city to absorb the customer user fee. When the Seattle Department of Transportation launched mobile payment in 2013, drivers paid a convenience fee per transaction – an approach that permitted the city to offer mobile payment without taking on large expenses. 


When the city removed the convenience fee, the number of monthly pay by phone transactions doubled within the year. By the end of 2017, transactions via the app had increased by another 55 percent and first-time users by 75 percent compared with 2016. 


To complement the user fee removal, Seattle and PayByPhone implemented a citywide marketing program designed to further boost adoption. The Soak in Seattle campaign was designed to obtain at least 6,000 new users and increase total user transactions to 840,000 during the promotion. The program was also designed to remain engaging and accessible for existing users.


 


Soak in Seattle


The summer-long campaign was launched in June 2017 and continued through the end of August. It included a number of marketing tactics, such as free parking offers, street team ambassadors, paid print and digital advertising and public relations, paid ads on social media sites, and a custom landing page. 


PayByPhone also offered a sweepstakes for drivers who parked with PayByPhone, with an automatic entry to win a unique Seattle experience such as Seattle Mariners baseball tickets and a helicopter tour. A social media campaign (#PBPSeattle) helped to generate word-of-mouth buzz, while engaging loyal users.


The promotion was also designed to promote personal interactions with drivers and create an in-person experience. To put this into action, PayByPhone brand ambassadors were present at Seattle’s annual Fremont Fair, demonstrating the app to the event’s 100,000 attendees. 


Those who downloaded the app were given the chance to win a variety of local prizes by selecting a winning ‘parking sticker’ off a car covered bumper to bumper with stickers. The parking sticker promotion was a reminder to drivers that by using the app they could avoid the “pain point” of getting a ticket.


The City and PayByPhone also used the media to expand the program’s reach. A news article about the sweepstakes was generated in Seattle Met Magazine and shared with the magazine’s 56,000 Facebook followers. The story was also shared with 21,513 subscribers of the Nosh Pit newsletter and 20,376 subscribers of the On the Town newsletter. These articles were supported by display ads that appeared on the Seattle Times website, leading to over 150,000 additional impressions.


Finally, the program included a paid social media campaign to promote the Soak in Seattle campaign. This resulted in a tremendous 534,857 impressions on Facebook and Twitter. A variety of traffic and app installation ads were used, educating drivers about the app while encouraging them to participate in the free parking offers by downloading. Select ads focusing on the sweepstakes also drove people to the campaign landing page. This page was regularly updated to reflect the latest free parking offers, remaining relevant and exciting. 


 


Desired Results


The 2017 summer campaign had the desired effect, leading to a 51 percent increase in mobile transactions and a 75 percent increase in new users. At the end of 2016, mobile payment represented 15 percent of total transactions. By the end of 2018, as a result of fee absorption and a concerted ongoing joint marketing effort, mobile payment today represents about 32 percent of total transactions (or about 315,000 transactions per month). 


To experience the myriad of benefits that mobile payment offers (to both the city and to drivers), it’s essential to take a strategic approach to promoting adoption among drivers. As Seattle’s experience demonstrates, a multi-faceted approach to growth can provide impressive, sustainable results.


Mary Catherine Snyder is a Parking Strategist for the City of Seattle. She can be reached at marycatherine.snyder@seattle.gov.


Roamy Valera is CEO, U.S. and Canada for PayByPhone. He can be reached at rvalera@paybyphone.com. 



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