City rolls out smartphone app for parking meters

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By Erich Wagner (File photo)

Officials announced the rollout of a new smartphone app to pay for parking meters in the city last month. But a few questioned whether using a competitor to Washington’s Parkmobile service was a smart choice.

Transit officials said they considered several ways to bring an app-based service to Alexandria for paying parking meters. They chose Pango because there was no upfront cost to the city and convenience fees levied on residents were much lower than other companies.

To park using the new app, residents must download it onto their smartphone and create an account. The service asks for the user’s license plate number, the zone number that corresponds with their parking spot and a credit card number, which is encrypted. Then a user simply taps “Start Parking” and finishes the transaction when they’re ready to leave.

Local parking guru Faye Dastgheib touted several advantages that Pango’s app has over other park-by-phone services, such as showing motorists the locations of nearby garages — city and privately owned — and allowing them to pay at the end of their session.

“Every time you want to extend your parking session [using Parkmobile in D.C. and Montgomery County], you need to pay an additional convenience fee,” Dastgheib said. “[One] of the good things about this, because the parker can stop the parking session at the backend, they can stop parking and they don’t need to extend the parking session [and pay additional fees].”

Additionally, Dastgheib said Pango charges users a 29-cent convenience fee per parking session, compared with 49 cents per transaction with Parkmobile.

City Councilor Tim Lovain applauded the app’s approach to paying for parking meters.

“Most people, like with a parking meter, tend to pay more than what you really need, because, just to be safe,” Lovain said. “So it actually hurts city revenues this way, but it’s really much better for the customer.”

Dastgheib noted that the app still enforces any two-hour parking restrictions in Alexandria. The app does not allow users to pay for more than two hours at a time in these locations and will send a notification to their phone reminding them to move their car.

But City Councilor Paul Smedberg noticed a potential problem with the app. Parkmobile and Pango use five-digit zone numbers, many of which begin with the number “2,” which could present problems with residents already using Parkmobile when they make trips into Washington.

“I have Pango set up next to Parkmobile, and if I by chance hit the Parkmobile app and put in a code, will that be a problem?” Smedberg asked. “Are our numbers unique?”

“It is going to be a problem, since the Pango system is not connected to Parkmobile’s system,” Dastgheib said. “[We] can look into that and see if it would create any problems.”