Reception tepid for pay-by-cell meters

As Elio Sciacqua raced from his work truck on Geary and 15th Avenue to pump change into his parking meter Thursday, one important detail scribed on the 4-foot post managed to miss his attention.

On the meter, surrounded by bright green borders, read the phrase, “Pay by phone & go! 1-866-490-PARK.”

“I had no idea you could pay for meters with your cell phone,” Sciacqua said. “I’m usually too busy to take the time to look.”

With Muni officials proposing a $10 increase in fines for overstaying meters — raising the cost to $60 in the downtown core and $50 everywhere else — convenient payment practices should be a top concern for city drivers, but like Sciacqua, many residents are unaware of a new pilot program that allows the purchase of meter minutes via cell phones.

Introduced in September in three neighborhoods — West Portal, Richmond and the Marina — the pay-by-cell pilot program allows drivers to purchase up to two hours of parking time with their credit cards by calling a toll-free number. Once the time is about to expire, the payer is notified by text message, allowing them the option to buy more minutes. In total, more than 1,000 meters are outfitted with the pay-by-cell feature.

Cynthia Pagan, president of the West Portal Avenue Association, said response to the project has been muted in her neighborhood.

“Everyone here has been pretty indifferent,” Pagan said. The rate of repeat users of the program is 26 percent in the Richmond, 25 percent in the Marina and 11 percent in West Portal, according to Judson True of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.

Public reaction to the pay-by-cell project has been responsive enough for Muni to consider implementing the plan citywide, True said.

“The pay-by-cell program is an example of The City using new technologies to streamline government and make parking more convenient and efficient for drivers,” said Joe Arellano, a spokesman for Mayor Gavin Newsom. “It’s geared for people who prefer to pay by card or for those that don’t carry spare change. Efforts like pay-by-cell are the future of parking, and as a city of innovation, we’re happy to be trying something new.”

True also pointed out the success of Muni’s prepaid parking card, which was introduced in 2005. More than 114,539 cards have been purchased for a total of $4.2 million, according to True.

wreisman@examiner.com

Charges dialed

Muni has established a pilot program that allows parkers in three neighborhoods to pay fees using their cell phones.

Muni parking-meter revenue:

2005: $20.7 million

2006: $28.8 million

2007: $29.6 million

Source: SFMTA

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