Smart Apps Deliver Parking Karma to Motorists

No more feeding coins in a meter. Technology improves the customer experience.

International Parking Institute survey

  • Transformative technology has entered the parking space.
  • Nearly 50% of respondents cite prevalence of mobile apps as a top emerging trend in parking for 2018.
  • Other emerging technologies that respondents mention include systems that improve access control and payment (47%) and guidance systems that help drivers find parking (43%).

Public Parking App features often allow:

  • Payments to be made remotely, and the convenience of starting a parking session from your vehicle
  • Extension of parking sessions remotely, practically from anywhere
  • A variety of payment methods, including major credit cards and other payment methods (PayPal, Apple Pay)
  • Countdown timers so drivers are aware of when their session expires
  • In app/email notifications, including a reminder prior to the end of a parking session, and receipts

Parking apps are big business. They process cashless payments, help motorists find and reserve available parking spaces, avoid and contest parking tickets, get point-by-point directions with real-time traffic information and do other tasks. Parking app technology is on a growth spurt. Forecaster Grand View Research predicts the North America smart parking market (including smartphone apps) will grow in value from $975.1 million in 2016 to $4.11 billion by 2025.

Public Parking Apps

Tom Woznick, Milwaukee’s Parking Services Manager

MKE Park, the city of Milwaukee’s mobile parking payment app, has also been on a growth spurt. The app has been a huge success with continued, ongoing growth since its roll out in April 2015, says Tom Woznick, Milwaukee’s Parking Services Manager. “The app has been downloaded 179,000+ times since the roll out, and MKE Park weekly use has grown from 6,518 transactions/week in 2015 to 16,913 transactions/week in 2018,“ Woznick tells Icons of Infrastructure.

The Milwaukee app offers a way to pay for meter parking directly from a smartphone. It works on coin only meters, multi-space LUKE meters and the city’s Liberty meters. The parking meter payment app is available for download on Apple and Android devices. ParkMobile, a provider of on-demand and prepaid mobile payments for on- and off-street parking, partnered with Milwaukee in developing MKE Park app. BMW now owns ParkMobile

The city’s arrangement with ParkMobile offers some protection, Woznick tells Icons of Infrastructure. “Our contract requires the app vendor be compensated through convenience fees paid for by the consumer, including all credit card transaction fees. This approach affords the customers the flexibility to choose the app as their payment option without the city incurring any costs.”

Woznick anticipates continued growth of parking app technology as it offers customers simplicity, ease and convenience. Woznick sees more navigation tools coming to motorists’ apps. “Parking app vendors are integrating with navigation services to provide customers with the ability to assess and evaluate parking (and transportation) options – including location, pricing, restrictions/regulations, and where applicable, reservations (typically off-street parking).” He believes these app features will give drivers the tools to find parking where they want it and for how long they need it without wasting time searching for it.

City Motto and Apps

In Grand Rapids, Mich., the city shifted June 25 from a ParkMobile app to a new, Grand Rapids-specific mobile parking app from Passport Labs for Grand Rapids parking. The new app, named Motu, functions in much the same way as its predecessor for the same 15-cent service fee per transaction. “Motu, which is based off the city’s motto, Motu Viget, which is strength and activity, offers a faster application and set up for our customers,” said Josh Naramore, Grand Rapids Mobile GR director. He said the new app “gives greater flexibility for what we want to do in the future.”

Jeff Perkins, CMO, ParkMobile

Feedback on Grand Rapids news media sites following the shift showed users missed ParkMobile’s access to a broad number of U.S. cities. ParkMobile does have a wide footprint across the U.S., says Jeff Perkins, the firm’s CMO. “We are in over 350 cities around the U.S. We are everywhere, from Philadelphia, New York City, Washington, D.C. (our biggest market). On the West Coast you can use our app in San Francisco, Berkeley, Phoenix, so we are in seven of the top 10 cities in the U.S., Perkins told Icons of Infrastructure. He added that 30% of his firm’s users actually use the ParkMobile app outside of their main market. “So people really like that aspect of the ParkMobile service–that you only have to have one app and you can use it in different markets.”

Khristian Gutierrez, Passport Chief Revenue Officer

Coverage of the Passport parking app is also quite extensive. “Now we are at over 450 cities. They are spread between the U.S., Canada, the UK, and we are in the process of expanding into Latin America. The majority of our app installations are in the U.S. and Canada,” says Passport Chief Revenue Officer Khristian Gutierrez. He says his firm has a close working relationship with Grand Rapids. “When we think about our role in serving the 450 communities, it is a very tight partnership with our client. So we think, ‘Hey, what do we need to do to put the client in the driver’s seat and help them achieve their goals?’”

“We have learned a lot about parker behaviors during the transition from ParkMobile to Motu and that users prefer more flexibility in their decision-making when using the app,” says Jennifer Kasper, Grand Rapids’ Business Manager, Mobile GR and Parking Services Dept. She says that through the Motu app, the city was able to “quickly address and change configuration settings to accommodate the feedback as the app is customizable for our needs.” Kasper says Grand Rapids has seen high user adoption and comparable usage data as it did when the ParkMobile app was in use.

No question, parking apps provide a convenience factor for cities and citizens, says ParkMobile’s Jeff Perkins. “For cities, the app helps make parking operations more efficient. Rather than having someone going from meter to meter and lugging around big bags of coins, parking crews are able to eliminate all of that and have customers process payments directly in the app.”

Another real benefit for cities notes Perkins, is that the ParkMobile app is one that consumers generally like. “It makes the experience in a city a bit more pleasant. There’s nothing worse than when you go into a city and you pull into a parking spot and you have to go and stand in line at a kiosk and wait to pay. The ParkMobile app lets you jump out of your car, quickly make a payment on the mobile app and then go about whatever shopping or business activities you want to do that day.”

Perkins notes: “Not having to take the ticket/receipt from the pay station/meter back to the car is definitely a big advantage. Probably the most popular app feature is that you can extend time remotely from your phone without having to run back and feed the meter.”

Planning Public Parking Apps

What can city officials do if they are planning to introduce a parking app?

“We launched our ParkMobile app back in 2014; we did a big media blitz at that time,” says Saul Frances, Parking Director, city of Miami Beach, Fla. “It never hurts to have an educational campaign for customers whether that’s through social media, a city communications department, a PIO, press releases or other media.” Frances, who has worked in the parking industry for 31 years, says the fact that ParkMobile has waived the convenience fee for Miami Beach residents is a key perk for those residents.

Where does Frances see the parking and payment process headed in the future?  “I don’t have a crystal ball, but certainly the technology is moving towards less hardware and greater access via the smartphone app within the payment process.” Frances adds: “We have a fully integrated license plate recognition and payment platform—so our entire system, whether it is metered parking at pay stations, ParkMobile, residential, commercial—everything is based on the license plate and the license plate reader.”

Keep close tabs on revenue, urges Scott Petri, executive director of the Philadelphia, Pa., Parking Authority. His organization inked a deal in December with ParkMobile to launch the meterUP mobile payments program which will be available throughout Philadelphia. The application will allow parkers to use their mobile devices to pay for parking at the metered, on-street parking spaces throughout the city. Some of Petri’s suggestions to agencies:

  • Audit, audit, audit any revenue coming in from a pay by phone vendor.  Do not rely on the vendor to keep your agency’s books.
  • Once pay by phone is installed, you should compare revenue streams so you know your agency’s adoption rate.
  • Pick a vendor who will be fiscally sustainable.
  • Pick a vendor that charges a convenience fee that can successfully sustain the program. Make sure the vendor is PCI-compliant. PCI is: The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS).
  • Be very clear in your RFP what you expect. This includes policies (cancellations), rates, holidays and custom messaging.
  • Use the IPI as a resource. IPI: That’s the International Parking Institute. The institute is the world’s largest association of professionals in parking. Members include everyone from garage owners and operators to architects to city managers to government agencies, health care centers, universities, airports, and convention centers. Go to this IPI site for resources on parking.

Amina Hassen, Urban Planner, WXY Studio

It’s vital that local governments be looking to ways to reduce vehicle miles traveled, says Amina Hassen, an urban planner at WXY Studio. The firm is a multi-disciplinary practice specializing in the realization of urban design, planning and architectural solutions. “Parking apps can help cut down on unnecessary circling for parking. But this should be considered alongside a suite of options to encourage alternative modes of transportation. I have not seen any apps that do this but a great feature to layer in would be public transit schedules to ease connections for people using their car for first/last mile connections.”

Jennifer Kasper in Grand Rapids seconds that multi-modal concept. She says municipal parking operators should ask: “Does the municipality wish to offer additional payment integrations with transit, bike share or pre-reserved parking?” Also, “Which pay-by-cell provider can support these functions?”

Kasper also urges municipal operators to consider whether an equity aspect should be considered in the phone app contracting process. She says municipalities should consider requiring the provider to offer an IVR number to call in sessions versus using a smart phone. Also, is there an ability to preload with cash vs. credit? IVR is a telephony technology that can read a combination of touch tone and voice input. It gives users the ability to access a database of information via phone.

Michael Keating produces content for American City & County and the GPN web site. He’s written about the government market for USA Today and more than 100 other publications and web sites. You can reach him at

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