Parking Meters Go Cellular Melissa Block talks to William Carlson, Parking Director for Coral Gables, Fla., about a Coral Gables system that allows you to park-and-pay-by-cellphone. You pull up, dial a number, punch in a few keys and walk away without a worry. The meter won't expire until you call again to log off.

Parking Meters Go Cellular

Parking Meters Go Cellular

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Melissa Block talks to William Carlson, Parking Director for Coral Gables, Fla., about a Coral Gables system that allows you to park-and-pay-by-cellphone. You pull up, dial a number, punch in a few keys and walk away without a worry. The meter won't expire until you call again to log off.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Say you pull up to a parking meter, you fish around for a bunch of quarters but come up short. Well, in some parts of the country now at this point, you could pull out your cell phone to pay. Coral Cables, Florida, is one of those places. This month, Coral Gables linked its 4,500 parking meters to a cell phone-based payment system. First, you have to register. You give the company that provides the service your license plate number, phone number, a credit card number and an e-mail address. William Carlson joins us to explain what happens next. He is the Coral Gables parking director.

Hi, Mr. Carlson.

Mr. WILLIAM CARLSON (Parking Director, Coral Gables, Florida): Good afternoon.

BLOCK: Let's say you do find a spot, you pull up to the meter and want to pay by phone. What happens next? What do you do?

Mr. CARLSON: Well, we're presuming, of course, that the person has registered as indicated. Then, in fact, there's a telephone number that you would, in fact, call to log on for a parking session and call the same number to log off when you've completed the period of time that you wish to park.

BLOCK: And it recognizes the phone number that you're calling in from?

Mr. CARLSON: That is correct.

BLOCK: And the idea is that the bill would then show up on your credit card?

Mr. CARLSON: That's correct.

BLOCK: And are you prepaying for a certain amount of time when you park?

Mr. CARLSON: No. You, in fact, are paying for whatever period of time you are logged in, meaning if, in fact, you log in, you'd be logged in for the maximum time allowed for on that meter. And if, in fact, you were to even forget to log out, you would automatically be logged out by the system after the maximum time for that parking meter expired.

BLOCK: Aha. So if you forget to tell them, `OK, I'm leaving now...'

Mr. CARLSON: You would only be charged for the maximum time on that parking meter. In addition to that, there's another safeguard. We have some longer-term parking meters, 10-hour. After a three hour, there would be a call made to that cell phone letting them know that they are still logged on to that unit.

BLOCK: Now the company that provides the service is getting a fee, I take it?

Mr. CARLSON: Twenty-five cents per parking session.

BLOCK: Well, how's it going so far? Do you have a lot of people signed up?

Mr. CARLSON: Yes. Mint Inc. is very excited by the participation. Last time I spoke with them, they were close to 300 registrations.

BLOCK: Mint Inc. is the company that runs this.

Mr. CARLSON: Mint Inc. is the company that provides the technology.

BLOCK: And you still can use a coin?

Mr. CARLSON: You can still use the coins, and we also have what is referred to as the cash key, which carries a credit amount of 25 to $100. Every time you insert the cash key in the parking meter, you get 25 cents' worth of parking time.

BLOCK: Now how would the person who's enforcing the parking meters know that this car has signed up and is paying remotely through their phone?

Mr. CARLSON: The parking enforcement personnel have a handheld unit. They input the zone number they're in, provides them with the license plates of the cars that have paid for their parking time through the cell phone technology.

BLOCK: We've learned that other places now have this, too. West Hollywood has a system like this, the campus of the University of California in Santa Barbara, private parking lots, too. It would seem, though, that as a municipality, you might really want the money from parking tickets from people who haven't prepaid and just ran out of quarters.

Mr. CARLSON: Well, our position is that we're not nearly so concerned with the loss of some insignificant revenue from parking citations as we are in providing another method of parking payment for the public.

BLOCK: You know, there would be one thing that I guess you'd lose with this system. If I park now and I overpay, I'm helping the guy behind me who gets the minutes that I've left behind.

Mr. CARLSON: Well, you mean when, in fact, you pay by coin or cash key?

BLOCK: With coin, yeah. Yeah.

Mr. CARLSON: That's true, yes.

BLOCK: That doesn't happen anymore.

Mr. CARLSON: Well, not if, in fact, you're using your credit card and logging in and logging out.

BLOCK: So that sort of trickle-down philanthropy isn't quite in effect anymore.

Mr. CARLSON: Well, that's true. But of course, at the present time, we have a great many more people--since the program's only been in effect since the 1st of June, there are a great many more people that are using coin or cash key. We expect there to be a great deal more participation, of course, within the cellular phone technology as time goes by.

BLOCK: Well, Mr. Carlson, thanks very much.

Mr. CARLSON: You're welcome.

BLOCK: William Carlson is the parking director for Coral Gables, Florida, which this month linked its parking meters to a system where you can pay through your cell phone.

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