District tests new payment systems for street parking

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Sunday, August 15, 2010

After the District increased its rates for street parking at the start of the year, many drivers focused on how to keep enough quarters in their cars. I prefer a yogurt container full of change. It fits into the cup holder slot next to the seat. But old film canisters are quite handy, too.

But the District Department of Transportation has launched parking payment experiments that could end my dependence on yogurt and film. These experiments are called pay by space, pay by plate and pay by phone. Here's a look at how they work.

Varied experiences

A driver who visits different areas -- say, Georgetown, the U Street corridor and the Smithsonian museums -- may encounter several of these pilot programs.

Don't assume that because you know how one type of multi-space machine works, you know them all. And while figuring out whether to use cash, a credit card or a cellphone to make a payment, don't forget to read all the street signs that spell out the parking regulations and hours. On Independence Avenue SW, for example, a stack of five signs details the avenue's parking rules and payment methods.

Here's one universal truth: It's the D.C. government that sets the street parking rules and fees, not the private vendors operating the payment systems.

Pay by plate

Cale Parking Systems USA operates a pay-by-license-plate pilot system in the 1300 block of U Street NW. Some drivers approach the payment kiosks thinking they are the same as the older multi-space parking kiosks around the city. It takes them a while to figure out that the machine wants them to enter their plate numbers before making a payment.

Parking enforcement officers can tell who has paid when they electronically read the plate numbers. But some drivers aren't so sure. Many place their receipts on their dashboards, just as they would with the older style of multi-space meter.

Pay by space

Parkeon, another parking management company, is operating the pay-by-space system in the 900 through 1200 blocks of Independence Avenue SW. Here again, there's a twist on the older style of multi-space kiosk.

Look on the old parking meter stands for a space number, and for the words, "Pay at Pay Station, Remember Your Space #." One driver at the pay station said he found the system easy to use and the instructions clear.

He knew the difference between this system and the older multi-space system, the one requiring the driver to place the receipt on the dashboard. In this experimental system, as with the pay-by-plate model, the driver can walk away with the receipt. The parking enforcement officer will know which spaces have been paid for.

Duncan Solutions also is operating its own pay-by-space system on several streets in Friendship Heights.

Pay by phone

Parkmobile and Verrus Mobile Technologies are operating systems in which subscribers use their cellphones to generate a parking payment. Here again, parking enforcement officers use electronic readers to recognize that a payment has been made.

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