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Parking Tips: Paying For Smart Meters By Phone. Good or Bad Idea?

Image by David LaBua

It's no secret that parking in the city is a bitch. So we've enlisted local parking guru and author of  Finding the Sweet Spot, David LaBua, to dish out weekly tips on navigating the ins and outs of city parking.
 

SFMTA has unveiled their plans for the next phase of SFpark which will be arriving "later this year".  This phase will add technology allowing drivers to pay for parking by phone at all 26,000 meters in San Francisco, not just the 5500 SFpark meters in pilot areas.
 
This phase, like the first one, will be partially funded through the Department of Transportation's Urban Partnership Program, which is funding 80% of the SFpark pilot program.
 
Chairman of the SFMTA Board of Directors, Tom Nolan stated that, "Anything we can do to make it easier for folks to pay at the meter furthers our goal of helping our customers get to their destinations quickly and easily."
 
The one really excellent and handy feature that can actually save drivers from getting a parking ticket is that customers paying by phone (any phone, not just an iPhone) will receive a text message reminder before their meter expires, and they will be given the option of adding time to their meter remotely (subject to time limit restrictions).
 
Here's the part that is going to go over like sand in your sandwich:
The total price will include the regular meter rate (which could be a regular rate of up to $6 per hour and as much as $18 per hour for special events) plus a "convenience fee" of up to 45 cents per transaction.  The almost half-a-dollar surcharge per transaction will not even go to SFMTA, but to a private vendor, Verrus Mobile Technologies, who will provide the pay-by-phone service.
 
Forty-five cents may seem like nothing but let's take a closer look: If the 26,000 meters in the City are used just 4 times per day, that's about 100,000 meter transactions per day and about half a million transactions per week.  If just 25 percent of these transactions are utilizing the pay-by-phone feature and are charged the 45 cent "convenience fee", that comes out to about three million dollars in "convenience fees" per year going to a private vendor.  I'm not a rocket scientist, but I believe that some of the rocket scientists and programming geniuses in the Bay Area could build a pay-by-phone system for SFMTA for a few million dollars, and then after that, the 3 million dollars would go to our City.
 
As much as I love cool apps, and while I love the possibility of getting a text letting me know that my meter is about to expire, I don't think I would use this feature if it's going to cost me half a dollar each time. I think I'll just use my tried and true method of setting an alarm on my phone each time I park to remind me to feed the meter or move my car.
 
For everything you ever wanted to know about parking (tips tricks, and free secret spots), but were afraid to ask, click here.