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Pay By Phone: Heaven in the hell of DC parking

I just had a great parking experience in downtown DC. Yes, re-read that sentence—it's legit. So is the Pay By Phone parking system. No more scouring the house and the car for parking meter change. No more jamming in a handful of coins when late for a meeting. And no more setting phone alarms to remind me when my time is up.

Photo by the author.

The pay by phone system is damn easy. I set it up with a short phone call and paid for my 2 hours of parking in the same time it took the woman who parked just after me to find her change and put it in the meter. Granted, she had to go back to her car and root around the backseat to get the $4 in change, but that's half the hassle gone.

The brilliant move: sending me a text message when my meter is about to expire so I don't get caught by the enforcement officers. The annoying aspect is that your meter doesn't show time. It says "Expired" even after you pay. This is confusing, but Pay By Phone promises that the DC parking enforcement will know you've paid. Sadly, the next person who might get a free ride from your meter payment will not.

Verrus, the pay by phone operator, sent me a tweet in response to a question about the meter showing payment. Talk about customer service!

@wayan_vota your license plate and time are automatically displayed on a handheld device used by the parking enforcement officer.

This is a great advancement in parking science on our very own streets.


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"It's legit."

Not "Its legit."

Come on people.

by uuugggghhhh on Jun 2, 2010 12:50 pm • linkreport

A great advancement will be it they created a Smartphone app for it. How much does Verrus get per fare?

by RJ on Jun 2, 2010 1:06 pm • linkreport

uuugggghhhh: You are correct on the use of "its" and "it's."

However, your statement "Come on people" needs a comma after "on"--unless, that is, you mean it as a command, with "people" as the direct object. I think that would be for some other blog entirely.

by JB on Jun 2, 2010 1:33 pm • linkreport

Fixed. Thanks.

by David Alpert on Jun 2, 2010 1:45 pm • linkreport

So my question is: How free is the market of companies that provide this service? And what is the surcharge that you loose to them?

by Jasper on Jun 2, 2010 1:46 pm • linkreport

Oh great! An easier way for DC to collect more money from us! So that they can spend more ...

by Lance on Jun 2, 2010 1:47 pm • linkreport

Anybody complaining about parking meters as a form of oppressive taxation seriously needs to get some perspective.

Also, the point isn't to raise revenue. It's to ensure fair utilization of a highly-sought-after public resource.

by andrew on Jun 2, 2010 2:18 pm • linkreport


Thanks for sharing. I have wondered about how simply this technology is.

by Sid Burgess on Jun 2, 2010 3:00 pm • linkreport

@Andrew so, the point isn't to raise revenue. It's to ensure fair utilization of a highly-sought-after public resource.

'Fair' would be putting a time limit on curbside parking that applied to everyone. Letting the wealthier among us get to 'buy' this public resource is anything by 'fair' utilization. It's about as bad as letting some company put its name on a stadium that taxpayers have paid for.

In the modern world, parking is part and parcel, part of 'access'. And access is part and parcel to not only one's daily routine, but for opportunity. So now we're saying that if you don't have the cash (or worse yet ... the credit card or the phone ...) you don't get to go anywhere. Sad. The children of the yuppies have turned out to be even more self-centered than their parents were at their age.

by Lance on Jun 2, 2010 3:43 pm • linkreport

Lance, your assumption is that the wealthiest people will always and invariably be the most willing to pay for parking. But this simply isn't true. Many people who wouldn't be willing or able to pay the cost of close-in parking on a regular basis would be grateful for the opportunity to pay more on the rare occasions they REALLY need it, rather than having it totally unavailable since it was snapped up by the "early birds."

Imagine a mom trying to pick her kids up from daycare before the late pickup deadline; someone picking up or delivering lots of groceries or heavy furniture; someone running late for an important appointment or job interview; a family with small kids and lots of gear treating themselves to an outing. On these occasions, having parking available to those who really need it, rather than those who happened to arrive first, is a great boon.

Your argument only makes sense if you assume that everyone is using prime on-street spots every day. But there simply isn't enough supply of street for that to be possible.

As an aside - why is it any more fair to privilege those people whose schedules permit them to arrive early, than it is to privilege the wealthy? Both have little to do with merit. Most people do not have full control over their schedule.

by Erica on Jun 2, 2010 4:51 pm • linkreport

P.S. - to the post - I agree, a great technological advance! There is no reason in 2010 people should be ticketed for the crime of "failure to have exact change." I'm happy to see this.

by Erica on Jun 2, 2010 4:53 pm • linkreport

Glad to hear your experience was positive. I spent ten minutes on hold one day and gave up trying to pay when I was on my way back to the car after leaving the restaurant I'd just visited to pick up my food. If this works, I might use it, but so far it doesn't seem to consistently.

by Nice Marmot on Jun 2, 2010 5:05 pm • linkreport

Isn't it a violation of the parking time limits to feed a meter after using the full time? If you pay twice, maybe the system should automatically charge your credit card the amount of the implied parking ticket.

by Matt on Jun 2, 2010 6:59 pm • linkreport

@Erica, I was suggesting that time limits were a fairer way to allocate vs metering. Early birds get no advantage, and if set at intervals that make for frequent turnover, then mom with kids in tow will always find a space. I am talking 'access'.

by Lance on Jun 2, 2010 7:17 pm • linkreport

@Lance: Mom may find a space, but it'll only be good for 20 minutes.

by Michael Perkins on Jun 2, 2010 10:01 pm • linkreport

@Michael, Mom may find a space, but it'll only be good for 20 minutes.

Surely we can still set a minimum ... such as the 2 hrs we have now ... And, of course, there's always 'for pay' off street parking for those who are staying longer than just for 'gaining access'. It's just that the curbside is 'public' and shouldn't be put out to the highest bidder. "Mom" might not have the money in her budget to pay everytime she needs to drop off or pick up the kids at day school ... and even though $2/hr (sure to rise much higher now that rates can be changed in a flash with the new collection devices) may not sound high, it will all add up when you have to pay that every day for the simple need of 'getting access'. The curbside should be for everyone for this purpose. And this is the same reason that I don't think we should continue allowing residential parking on streets unless there is a surplus of parking there. When one knows they have a longterm storage need for their car, such as when at home or when at work, they are in a position to get themselves longterm off street parking.

by Lance on Jun 3, 2010 8:19 am • linkreport

@Lance: So what do you do if a two-hour limit is insufficient to keep a space available? That's true in many parts of the city. A two-hour limit, combined with a $2 per hour meter price, and the streets are full. So if you want "access" (which I agree), you have to either raise the price or reduce the time limits. At some point, time limits become unenforceable because they require constant supervision.

A curb space is not a public good, which is a good that is non-excludable (hard to exclude people from consuming) and non-rivalrous (the consumption does not reduce the amount available for others to consume). Since a curb parking space is excludable and rivalrous, it is not a public good. It is a private good controlled by a public body.

True public goods are things like clean air or walking space on a non-crowded sidewalk.

by Michael Perkins on Jun 3, 2010 9:11 am • linkreport

Paying for meters? I've never had to pay for a meter....when I locked my bike to it. :-P

by dynaryder on Jun 3, 2010 12:26 pm • linkreport

The curbside should be for everyone for this purpose.

Well that sounds great! Unfortunately, there simply isn't enough supply to meet the demand in a crowded city like DC, nor can there be. It is not physically possible for every "mom" to have available curbside parking right in front of her kid's day care downtown, every day, for free. My example was intended to illustrate an emergency exception to a daily routine, not the routine itself.

1 DC city block = 528 feet, minus curb cuts, fire hydrants, etc. 1 parking space = 20 feet. 20 moms per day care business = 20 cars. 5 businesses per block = 100 cars. 100 cars * 20 feet of parking space = 2000 feet needed per block.

See the problem?

Unless you can come up with a way to warp space and time, limited resources will remain limited. I think it is better to reserve them for those who REALLY need them - not those lucky enough to happen by when a spot opens up.

by Erica on Jun 3, 2010 4:46 pm • linkreport

@Erica, My point was that as 'access' they don't need to park there all day ... just long enough to carry the kid to and from the car. If we stopped allowing curbsides to be used for 'storage' of a vehicle, there would be plenty of space available for everyone to come and go ... staying maybe 10 mins, maybe 2 hrs ... but no longer than those 2 hrs (or whatever time limit we come to agreement on).

It's all a matter of putting that curbside space to its highest and best use ... and that is as 'access' space for short term parking needs. When we need to park for longer periods, then it should be incumbent upon us to find longer term parking offstreet ... And since that longer term parking is usually of a repetitive and habitual nature (such as parking when you're at home or at work), it shouldn't be all that hard to find a space that is within our financial means ... As happens currently, that might mean living further out in the burbs where parking is cheap and/or free, or it might mean giving up something else in order to pay for parking in town. No, it might not be 'free' but there the motorist can determine what they can afford to spend (or 'want' to spend) for these parking needs since they can be in control of them. For short term access parking needs, that is not the case. You're far less in control of where you may need to park on a short term, non-recurring basis. For example you might be meeting someone at a restaurant, going to doctor's appt or simply needing to stop for 10 mins to drop off your child at daycare. One shouldn't have to have to be rich in order to be able to participate in these daily necessities where one cannot control the costs involved in parking like they can when it is for longterm, recurring situations where they can.

by Lance on Jun 3, 2010 11:34 pm • linkreport

Did somebody say rave?

by SW on Jun 5, 2010 6:35 pm • linkreport

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