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Chicago to roll out city-wide mobile payments for parking

March 12, 2014

The City of Chicago will be introducing a pay-by-mobile program for parking this spring to bring more convenience to its residents.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the plans in April 2013, and officials recently stated that the program is nearing a launch date. Consumers will be able to download the ParkChicago application to pay for parking by inputting a pay box number.

“Frankly, the machines that cities use as a replacement for parking meters are a royal pain in the neck,” said Paula Rosenblum, managing partner at Retail Systems and Research, Miami, FL. “Half the time they’re not working right, so you have to walk until you find one, and you must guestimate how long you’re actually going to stay in your space.  If you get it wrong, you’ve got to go back and do it again.

“So the city is spending money caring and feeding the machines, and picking up the money,” she said. “The motorist has stress because he/she may have to go back and add more time to the meter.

“Pay by phone sends you a text message when time is running out and gives you the simple option to just add more time via your phone.”

Ms. Rosenblum is not affiliated with the City of Chicago. She commented based on her expertise on the subject.

The City of Chicago did not respond to press inquiries.

A number of other cities, including Miami, Seattle and New York already offer similar programs with the pay-by-phone technology.

“I don’t know why a city wouldn’t do this,” Ms. Rosenblum said. “It takes every piece of effort out of the process except signage and enforcement.

“And the areas are large enough that you don’t need a sign every five feet,” she said.

Chicago will be developing its own pilot program, starting with the downtown area.

Consumers will have to enter the meter number and how long they expect to be in the spot. They can add time from wherever they are via the app at any point.

If consumers use the pay-by-cell program for less than two hours, they will be charged a convenience fee of 35 cents.

The announcement of the new pay-by-cell parking program came while the mayor was renewing the city’s contract with Chicago Parking Meters, LLC.

Mobile utility
The new program will be more convenient for consumers since they will be able to do this all while sitting in their car without having to go out to a parking meter and placing a receipt on the windshield. This is especially convenient when it happens to be raining or snowing.

“While many of today’s mobile wallets add negligible value, focusing efforts around fixing inherently broken processes makes quite a bit of sense and can lead to rapid adoption,” said Jordan McKee, analyst for Yankee Group, Boston. “I would certainly place paying for parking in the ‘broken process’ bucket and view mobile as an excellent avenue for innovation.

“For one, I’d be willing to argue that far more people have a mobile phone in their pocket than change,” he said. “Developing a mobile parking application not only adds considerable convenience for residents, but will inevitably result in cost savings and inefficiencies for the city thanks to a lessened need for parking meter enforcement.”

Alexandria, VA, recently added a similar program with PangoUSA to let consumers pay for parking via the app (see story).

Phoenix, Auburn, NY, and Latrobe, PA, also let drivers pay for parking via their smartphones with the Pango app (see story).

“The public sector is now recognizing that mobile can be used as a utility device to drive behavior – this has been in play in the private sector for many years,” said Joline McGoldrick, research director at Millward Brown Digital, New York.

Ms. McGoldrick is not affiliated with the City of Chicago. She commented based on her expertise on the subject.

“Apps make sense frequent and consistent mobile behaviors,” she said. “People take their devices everywhere and they are considered a life management tool.

“Offering an app like this can make  the steps to accomplish a goal (in this case, parking) easier. Nonetheless, the majority of apps that are downloaded are rarely used.  The key is making an  app that has high usability by being direct, involves minimal navigation, and works every time.”

Final Take
Rebecca Borison is editorial assistant on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York

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Rebecca Borison is editorial assistant on Mobile Commerce Daily and Mobile Marketer. Reach her at

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