Parking app will let you pay meter by cellphone

Written By BY TINA SFONDELES Staff Reporter Posted: 05/15/2014, 06:12am
Array Miguel Esquivel of Dalton puts up a new parking sign on a post on North Avenue to replace an old pay to park sign, April 10, 2014. The new signs are a part of a pilot program in the West Loop where people can use their cell phones to pay for parking with an app called ParkChicago. | Michael Schmidt/Sun-Times

A new phone app allowing Chicago drivers to pay for a parking meter — or add time to avoid a ticket — will get a test drive in Chicago starting this week.

The free ParkChicago app will go active on Tuesday, kicking off the pilot program — which will last two to three weeks — in the West Loop, from Madison to Monroe and Halsted to Racine. That’s 279 metered spots.

From there, both Chicago Parking Meters — which leased the city’s 36,000 parking meters as part of a 75-year deal that began in 2008 – and the app vendor Passport Parking, Inc. will get feedback from drivers and work out any kinks, before expanding the program.

Drivers will be charged a 35-cent “convenience fee” for using the app for parking under two hours. That money will go to the operators of the app and to pay for credit card transaction fees, according to Chicago Parking Meters spokesman Scott Burnham. He said Chicago Parking Meters gets what is left over to cover expenses, including its call center, customer service initiatives, labor and 40,000 street signs that will ultimately go out to alert drivers of the new app. But the amount the company gets is capped, with the city receiving anything above that.

Chicago Parking Meters, through subcontractor LAZ Parking, already gets to pocket parking fees and is responsible for the maintenance of the meter machines. They’re also allowed to roam the city and ticket at will. But the city gets to keep ticket revenues.

The app fee is waived if you park for more than two hours. By comparison, drivers pay a 45-cent fee for all uses of the meter app in both Madison, Wis., and San Francisco, Calif., according to Burnham.

Here’s how the app works: Drivers will input a zone number, which is listed on a sign on the street, and both their credit card information and a license plate. The app will save your information for future purchases. And when you have 10 minutes left, it will send an alert to let you know either to jet back to your car, or pay more.

To take advantage of the pay-by-phone system, customers must first set up an account via and link it to a major credit card or debit card.

Drivers will know whether the app is available for metered spots with new street signs showing the ParkChicago logo.

This past Thursday, parking meter crews took down a pay for parking sign in the 1000 block of West Madison Street, and placed one that read “Sign up at” It also lists the zone number to input into the app.

Kirstin Martin owns Smitten, a boutique and wedding consulting store just outside the new sign. Martin said she’s had her fair share of parking tickets on Madison Street.

“If I’m in the middle of an appointment, I can’t really excuse myself to go and feed the meter,” Martin said. “It’ll be nice to easily access that. And I think it’ll be great for our customers too.”

Drivers will still have the option of paying for the meter at the pay boxes, and placing the receipt on the dash. But parking enforcement workers will be scanning the license plate to check whether the spot has been paid for with the app.

Similar apps are used in Canada, the United Kingdom and France.


Twitter: @TinaSfon

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