Don’t fear the meter — pay by cell phone 

Gadget-friendly downtown visitors no longer have to leave their movie seats or restaurant tables to put money in the parking meter.

High-end meters installed on most downtown streets and garages this year already allow visitors to pay by coin, bill or credit card. Now, the city is working on a system that allows visitors to pay by mobile phone rather than trekking back to the sidewalk every few hours.

To sign up, customers call or send a text message to the phone number listed on meters and supply credit-card information. After that, they’re asked what stall they parked in, the time and their license plate number. The system reminds them by text message when they’re about to run out of time.

City parking experts are hoping the convenience of pay-by-phone parking will bring more people downtown, in part to fuel the resurgence sparked by the opening of the Century 20 theater, new shops and restaurants on Broadway.

To urge people to sign up, Redwood City is offering two hours of free parking each time visitors use the service to pay for parking in August.

"It takes a couple of minutes to set up an account, and from there on out, each [payment] takes about 30 seconds," said Downtown Development Manager Dan Zack. "Once you have an account, you never have to go to the meter."

Although Zack doesn’t expect the option to appeal to everyone, it may draw some local technology-lovers.

"In the past, when I didn’t have coins on me, I would park illegally knowing I could pay by phone if I got a ticket," said Ted Prodromou, who works at a technology firm in San Carlos. "I’d much rather just pay for parking by phone."

Others were more skeptical of the service.

"I make a point to carry change in my car," said Ian Hess, who works for a tech company in Redwood City. "I’m very suspicious about the cost of the technology — and the security to keep it from getting hacked."

The technology, developed by Vancouver, Canada-based Verrus Mobile Technologies Inc., has been launched in a number of cities including Seattle and Vancouver, according to Verrus spokeswoman Phoebe Yong.

"People just want the convenience, and it’s a matter of safety," Yong said. "In parking lots, people don’t want to be fumbling with their change. And in places where weather is not the best, it’s not ideal all year round to keep going to the meter."

bwinegarner@examiner.com


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Beth Winegarner

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