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Pay-by-phone accepted at 955 parking meters in downtown Toledo

Drivers can add time from afar when meetings, meals run late

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    The Blade/Jeremy Wadsworth
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    Starr Chellsea Cutino talks about downtown Toledo parking meters and a new pay-by-phone application. She was not surprised that it carries an additional fee.

    THE BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH
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    Downtown parking meters have stickers explaining how to pay the meter by phone.

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Starr Chellsea Cutino talks about downtown Toledo parking meters and a new pay-by-phone application. She was not surprised that it carries an additional fee.

THE BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH
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For those tired of schlepping pocketfuls of quarters to feed Toledo’s parking meters, or fed up with getting tickets when meetings run later than expected, the Downtown Toledo Parking Authority has a solution — paying by phone.

Bright-green stickers the agency has applied during the past nine days to nearly all its 955 downtown parking meters display both a phone number and a Quick Response code to connect with ParkingMobile, an Atlanta-based contractor that will handle pay-by-phone transactions.

“It’s another customer-service feature we’re offering,” said Bill Thomas, president of the Downtown Toledo Improvement Corp., which oversees the parking authority. “You can use it when you can’t get back to the meter.”

It is expected that most of the business will involve smart-phone users whose devices can scan that QR code — it opens a link to a ParkingMobile Web site — and who often find that their downtown business or errands last longer than their parking time, exposing them to $10 overtime-parking tickets from the parking authority’s meter officers.

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Downtown parking meters have stickers explaining how to pay the meter by phone.

THE BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH
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But those with less-advanced phones still can pay for parking through the system by calling 877-727-5009. 

After receiving payment, the system sends back a confirmation email, text message, or both — and later sends reminders that time is running out or has expired.

“That’s really cool — awesome,” said Starr Chellsea Cutino, who lives in a downtown apartment building but sometimes drives to go to restaurants. “I go out to eat a lot downtown, and it’s kind of nice to be able to pay while you’re eating dinner.”

What it is not is free, although that didn’t surprise Miss Cutino: “There’s always a fee.”

The fee is 35 cents per transaction, charged for each supplemental meter payment, said Dan Fortinberry, the parking authority’s general manager.

Paying up front for two hours of parking costs $2.35 using the system, but someone who buys just an hour up front and then takes two half-hour extensions will end up paying $3.05 — although that’s still a lot less than getting a ticket.

The fee covers ParkingMobile’s expenses for operating the system and forwarding payments to the parking authority, along with, presumably, a decent profit for the company, which operates similar systems in scores of other U.S. cities.

Once one sets up a ParkingMobile account, Mr. Fortinberry noted, it can be used in any city where the company operates, which can be especially handy in expensive-parking cities such as New York.

The system requires users to provide a major credit card and license-plate information.

License data goes into a computer record that meter officers check before issuing tickets to vehicles parked at expired meters, because time paid for using the system does not appear on the meters’ screens. The officers do not see the credit-card information.

Not to be included in the pay-by-phone system are a handful of parking meters in 15-minute parking zones, which only accept quarters or the parking authority’s “smart keys.” For now, the Smart Meters on Constitution Avenue near the courthouses aren’t part of the system either, but that will soon change.

The parking authority has “soft-launched” the system to make sure it works. But while a marketing push is planned next week, Mr. Fortinberry said, some drivers haven’t waited: As of noon Wednesday, there had been 44 smart-phone transactions by 21 customers.

Those did not include Mike Frailey, a southwest Toledoan who said he might use the system “if I had a smart phone,” but instead paid the old-fashioned way when he drove downtown Wednesday to pay a bill.

“It would be excellent to be able to renew by phone. I’ve been down here for meetings with my lawyer, and you put a whole bunch of coins in just to be safe,” Mr. Frailey said.

And don’t count on Hilde Boes, a South Toledo resident who visited Government Center to pick up some tax forms, to sign up with ParkingMobile anytime soon. She said she’ll keep carrying coins because she simply doesn’t trust online money handling.

“I’d rather give them a dollar and feel safe,” she said. “Maybe my kids would [use it]. I’m sure it’s lovely, it’s convenient. But it’s not for me.”

Those leery of either the technology or the fees still may pay with cash, the “smart keys” or, at a growing number of downtown meters, a Visa or MasterCard. Four hundred Toledo parking meters have swipe readers for credit-card payment, and Mr. Fortinberry said the parking authority plans to convert 200 more this year and another 200 next year, adding that capability to all of the busiest locations. Customers pay no surcharge for using a parking meter’s credit-card reader, and meters with those readers do not accept the “smart keys.”

Mr. Fortinberry said the parking authority is considering setting up debit-card accounts for customers who don’t want to carry cash or use their credit cards to pay for downtown parking, either at the meters or in three parking garages the authority manages.

Contact David Patch at: dpatch@theblade.com or 419-724-6094.

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