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I was reading my RSS feeds and saw that IntoMobile reported on is group called Parkmobile is going to make it easier to pay for parking in DC (not fixing the real issue of actually parking). I like the idea, but man have they made it too hard to park.

When I think of parking and then using my mobile to pay for it, it should work like this:

  1. There should be instructions on the meter to send picture of car, text of license plate, length of time to park, and meter code location to a number that’s engraved on the meter (or also on curb)
  2. Confirmation of receipt of SMS/MMS, final question to confirm that payment will happen via premium SMS (this way you aren’t sending debit/credit card details to anyone)
  3. Receipt SMS, confirms payment, location, and length of parking time.
    • Bonus #1: add a question at the end asking if you want a reminder 15min before your time expires.
    • Bonus #2: send the receipt both as SMS and a QR Code that can be saved and scanned if there are disputes later

Seriously, it should be that simple.  But asking people to download an app, register for a service, etc., that is not efficient. If anything, all of that should be opt-in, and there never should be a mobile app option.

Now, I get some of Parkmobile’s solution – they want to help you build a profile of those places you park most so that you can be more efficient in this process. I got you, but then I don’t. If the city is sponsoring your ability to provide this service, then I would expect that both private company and the city would have a system that shows some intelligence. For example:

  • I have parked in the city for the 3rd time in a month.
  • After sending my initial text, getting the confirmation, and then the receipt.
  • I’m asked in the final message if I want this data saved for a future transaction.

That’s it. I’m not creating a user name, not remembering another password, and heavens no am I downloading a mobile app that limits the choices of mobiles that I could use this service for. Look at Estonia or Finland, governments working with carriers keeping it so that everyone can take advantage of this.

And then if I’m the city, I am requiring this company to go through security audit checks (quarterly regular checks and random checks based on the frequency of information that is passed through certain points). I am also making a note to promote this with local businesses and commerce associations asking them to make sure that they are using the service for tax breaks or other city-friendly products and services.

And if I’m a parking garage, I’m all in here. Let people pay by mobile, but in using a RFID sticker on the auto (like E-Pass) or by making the owner display a QR Code when they are leaving a facility that is then scanned.

It really ain’t that hard to keep parking simple. But I’m not sure that Parkmobile, DC, or many others out side of a few beaches that I’ve visited in the past years are actually thinking through this.

Really, you’d make a mobile app for a parking meter service? That’s energy that could have been better spent elsewhere.

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3 thoughts on “Parkmobile, Is Metered Parking That Complicated?

  1. I’m Estonian. Actually, I was leading the project to develop one of first mobile parking solutions in the world back in 2001 in Estonia.
    I agree, mobile parking must be easy. It is in Estonia. Buy a phone, send parking commands (either using txt or app) and pay your monthly mobile bill that among other services charges the parking fees as well. No registration required.

    Premium SMS might seem a good option (if you are not familiar with mobile industry specifics) however,:
    * US carriers are not flexible enough to use dynamic pricing on Premium SMS – hence you can not charge for actually parked time. Only pre-purchased, fixed time slots.
    * US carriers want to have from 40-60% (sometimes even more) revenue share from Premium SMS (actually for ANY service third parties would provide)

    So unless you are ready to pay for your parking 40-60% more Premium SMS (or any third party service that might be billed to your monthly phone bill) is not an option. As simple as that.

    The high percentages US carriers are demanding for Premium SMS (and other third party services) will go down. As they went down in Europe. Perhaps in 5 years. Hopefully earlier. But until then the only option really is to register customers and ask them to provide PayPal/Credit Card for payments.

  2. Thanks for your comments. Indeed, it is always better to have my sensibilities tempered by those who have developed, implemented, and are much more informed than I am on subjects.

    The percentages for Premium SMS I was aware of, but that didn’t even fact into something being passed onto consumers (silly me, I know better). Shame that it is the case, because – as you noted – it really can and should be that simple.

    Sometimes, I wonder if we will ever just learn from other countries and opt for the simpler, already proven, and effective methods, rather than aiming so hard for profitability that the industry is set back when there really is motion from people to do things differently.

  3. Oh, I forgot to add Full Disclosure part 🙂

    I do not work for Parkmobile. Nor for Verrus. In fact I actually work for their competitor ParkNOW!

    But the problems I described are similar to all of our companies. Not to talk about hundreds or perhaps thousands of innovative companies that could provide new services if…

    But, being incurable optimist, I do hope that mobile service providers in US will come to their senses soon.

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