Ottawa, Canada, has joined a growing list of North American cities supporting mobile payments for parking.

The Ontario city in late April introduced its mobile-payment system for more than 6,000 public parking spaces. Vancouver-based PayByPhone Inc., a subsidiary of London-based PayPoint Plc, provides the system (see story).

Consumers in Ottawa may pay for their parking time using either Near Field Communication technology, quick-response codes, a mobile site or PayByPhone's mobile application, Neil Podmore, the company's vice president of business development, tells PaymentsSource.

Other companies use mobile apps only, without the NFC and QR code features (see story).

PayByPhone stickers are on each Pay and Display machine in the city, and they include instructions, a contactless tag and a QR code. Consumers can register with Google Inc.'s Android, Apple Inc.'s iPhone or Research in Motion's BlackBerry devices by downloading an app or by visiting the PayByPhone mobile site. Non-smartphone users can call a phone number; those preferring to register online visit the PayByPhone website.

Consumers share their payment card information, vehicle plate number and phone number, all of which is saved in the system. Consumers also still may use cash in the Pay and Display system. Pay and Display spits out a ticket to put in the window.

Each location has a specific code built into the contactless chip or QR tag. When parking, the user taps the chip or scans the QR code with his phone to enter the location automatically. The NFC use opens the app, which has all the required information except for length of time desired. The QR code opens the mobile site. Mobile site users must manually enter the location number, which is on the PayByPhone sticker.

Users enter the parking period desired in minutes on the website or in the app. The system calculates and shows the total owed.

If the user approves the payment, the payment processing and parking period begin. The consumer fee to use the service is 25 cents; an additional 10-cent fee applies if he chooses to be alerted of expiring time by text message. The user can get emailed receipts by entering an email address into the system or by checking his account at the PayByPhone site.

The system sends an SMS text alert when there is five minutes remaining, at which time the user can extend the period through the app, mobile site or by calling the phone number provided in the text message. Parking-enforcement staff have on their wireless personal digital assistants the license plate numbers of cars associated with certain location codes and time remaining for those vehicles, says Podmore.

Those lacking mobile Web or contactless/QR capabilities must use the phone number each time. Consumers use the mobile Web or app 92% of the time in other cities with similar PayByPhone systems, Podmore says.

Chicago; San Francisco; Austin, Texas; and Washington, D.C., are among the other cities that within the past couple of years have launched mobile-payment acceptance for parking. And as the movement catches on, developers should keep user-friendliness in mind, mobile technology analyst Todd Ablowitz tells PaymentsSource.

The challenge is getting a consumer to try it the first time, says Ablowitz, president of Denver-based Double Diamond Group.

“The key to anything mobile and anything new is it’s got to be simple, so easy to get signed up that it’s hard not to do,” he says. “It’s not whether mobile will be all over parking–it’s too beautiful a combination–but the devil’s in the details, like with all things mobile. People have far less patience with mobile than they have on a desktop.”

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