By Anna Lothson
Don't worry about digging up enough change to feed parking meters in Oak Park come Oct. 7 — the cashless option allowing users to pay via credit card or a smartphone app will be ready.
The new pay-by-phone options aims to make more than 4,000 public spaces throughout the village more convenient by allowing people to use the app or by calling a toll-free number to pay via credit card. The system will also send users text message reminders 15 minutes prior to the expiration of their parking session and allow them to pay for more time remotely.
"We are thrilled to introduce mobile payment technology throughout Oak Park," Jill Velan, Oak Park's interim parking and mobility services manager, wrote in a news release. "Mobile payment is the future of parking, and we believe the vendor we chose offers the easiest to use and most convenient system available."
The new service is provided by PassportParking, a company that already provides services in places like Brookfield, Desplaines, Downers Grove, Glenview, Harvard, Morton Grove, Oak Lawn and Villa Park, as well as in privately owned parking facilities in several major cities.
Velan said reports from other communities show the use of pay-by-phone parking has increased parking revenues simply because people are paying the meters more; that increase is credited to the text message reminders. It will take some time before Oak Park will be able to determine the new system's impact on Oak Park's parking fund.
To use the system, customers register via the free PassportParking Mobile Pay app or voice telephone system. The app is available for both iPhone and Android users. Simple registration instructions are located near each parking site.
Motorists can then use the mobile payment option with the app, call a toll-free number or text the zone and space information posted at the parking site. A valid credit card is required to use the system and a 35-cent fee is applied for the initial transaction. That "convenience fee," as it's described, is a one-time fee while a car is parked in a specific spot during that day. That fee goes toward PassportParking, not the village.
The system costs toward the village are minimal, Velan reported, with the total costs being just under $5,000. She explained a majority of this cost is because the village needed to purchase smartphones for parking enforcement officers to track the meters.
Having the enforcement officers equipped with smartphones, however, will allow the officers to be more efficient, Velan said, because they can easily see which meters have been paid for by credit card and if those are expired or not. They cannot track coin-fed meters via the smartphones.
Parking meters will continue to accept coins and pre-paid keys. And pay by space machines will continue to accept cash and credit card payments.
Businesses will also be able to use the program to offer discounts and promotions for PassportParking customers who visit those stores. Drivers who use the mobile pay technology will be able to log in using a Facebook account to find nearby businesses that offer validation or other discounts.
"Oak Park will enjoy the benefits of the technology revolution that is sweeping the U.S.," Bob Youakim, managing partner of PassportParking, wrote in the village's news release. "The community will enjoy the simplicity of our mobile payment option and the many conveniences our technology offers."
From now until Oct. 7, parking customers may see new stickers pop. Crews from PassportParking will be placing stickers on current meters and making sure meters match up with Oak Park's parking rules, such as the 15 minute temporary spots on Lake Street. No new devices or meters are needed to implement the pay-for-parking option.