The use of mobile applications to help consumers pay for parking is growing, with three companies recently announcing expansions and new technology.

As more consumers carry smartphones than carry exact change, the practice of using handsets to pay for parking is gaining favor. For companies or municipalities, these systems also provide the convenience of transaction reporting and an increase in revenue if consumers park longer or more frequently because the process is easier.

PayByPhone, based in Vancouver, B.C., announced last week that it won Seattle's business by competitive bid; San Francisco-based QuickPay Corp. revealed new payment platform technology to unify a city's or company's off-street parking—in garages with exit and entry barriers, for instance; and Streetline Inc., headquartered in Foster City, Calif., announced an agreement with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority to retrofit coin-operated meters in two train stations to accept payment by mobile app.

These initiatives have their differences, but they share the goal of speed for the consumer and efficiency for the entity that hires the app provider. Generally, a user downloads an app and then registers with a license plate and payment card. When parking, the user enters a location code and desired length of time of parking. Payment is made with the stored card information.

The parking provider either absorbs the fee attached to this service, or the provider adds it to the cost motorists pay; PayByPhone charges 35 cents per transaction in one location, for example. Many apps include phone numbers or text capabilities for those without smartphones. Some also support near-field communication chips and bar codes.

George Peabody, director of emerging technologies for Mercator Advisory Group, says the number of different parking needs and areas have contributed to the surge.

"With mobility there's two ways to go — trying to have a mobile platform that's ubiquitously accepted, or … an app that's optimized for [a] particular context," Peabody says. "We're starting to see a lot of (the latter), and you'd expect it to show up in a problem as ubiquitous as parking."

PayByPhone vice president of sales Buzz Hemphill says when his company wins the business of cities and other parking providers, it's because of security and ease of accounting as well as favorable user experiences.

PayByPhone's apps are audited for compliance with the Payment Card Industry data security standard. PayByPhone will soon be piloting in New York's Bronx borough; the pilot will test its use by parking enforcement staff, its integration with backend systems in place, and consumer acceptance, Hemphill says.

"Cities don't like risk," says Hemphill. "When you're going with us, you're going with something that's proven from a credit card security point of view, proven from an accounting point of view, but also from a redundancy point of view; our gateways, our servers, multiple levels of redundancy to keep our service up.

"At the end of the day you're using a phone either calling in or an app to pay for it, and that's very similar across us and the competition, but it's what's behind the scenes that drives it."

QuickPay CEO Barney Pell says apps also provide data to better serve consumers as well as improve operations.

"Through data and analytics, we hope to provide those operators and businesses with not only a sense of who their parkers are, but how they park," Pell says. "This helps operators fill open real estate — parking spaces — while also presenting an opportunity for operators and businesses to engage in reward, loyalty and coupon programs to retain existing parkers and gain new ones."

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