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The Benefits of Pay-by-phone Parking

Washington, D.C., is about to roll out a new pilot program that will let people pay for parking meters with their cell phones. You just set up an account at and enter your credit card information, license plate number, and cell phone number. When you find a parking spot, you just make a phone call to enter the number of the spot and the amount of time you want to pay for. The charge automatically goes on your credit card. It looks like the system can also send you text messages to remind you when your time is about to expire so you can add more time remotely.

The company that provides this service, Verrus Mobile Technologies, has already launched it in cities from Sacramento to Boston to Anchorage. Miami has pay-by-phone parking for more than 8,000 street spaces and 20 city parking lots.

This is a big convenience for people. The pay-by-phone option means you don't have to search for change or run back to the meter to add time. But from the city's perspective, it also cuts down on the expenses involved in maintaining and collecting from meters and issuing tickets. It could help the city get smarter, too. The wired, computerized system could provide a wealth of data about the demand for parking spots in different places and times, and that information could be used to set prices.

It's interesting to contrast this with the parking program in San Francisco, which goes even further by providing sensors that know exactly when a given spot is occupied. That system provides better data about how parking is used, because it knows when a spot is full even if it hasn't been paid for, but is a bigger investment because it requires a sensor in every spot.

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