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Chicago to expand its parking-by-app program

About 1,600 West Loop drivers used a free parking app during three weeks of a pilot program giving motorists the option to pay for public parking spots by phone.

Chicago Parking Meters on Tuesday said the ParkChicago app will begin to roll out in areas surrounding the pilot area — which is bordered by Madison to Monroe and Halsted to Racine — and expand to all of the city’s 36,000 meters by the end of summer.

ParkChicago, along with app vendor Passport Parking, launched the program on April 15 at 279 metered spots in the West Loop.

A ParkChicago spokeswoman also said about 3,500 people downloaded the app.

Last week, in the 1000 block of West Madison, there were no takers for the app. Drivers had instead just printed out a receipt from the machine and placed it on the dash. Parking enforcement agents in the pilot program were equipped with two machines: one to print out tickets, and a new one to input the license plate number. Eventually, meter agents will have to input all license plate numbers just to check whether drivers have used the app or not.

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

After finding a parking spot, drivers then input a zone number, which is listed on street signs and — the first time they use the app — their credit card information and a license plate. The app will save that information for future purchases. One of the perks: 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.

Drivers are charged a 35 cent so-called “convenience fee” for using the app for parking under two hours.

Sean Mahoney, of west suburban LaGrange, said he downloaded the app, but hadn’t gotten around to signing up for an account. He said he’s not too worried about the fee.

“I think the convenience of being able to do it from your phone, when you’re out to eat or at work or something, is good,” said Mahoney, 37. “It’s worth that fee.”

Not all are sold on the app. Ann Sinclair, owner of The Fig Tree, a gift shop on Madison, said she’s worried about “day trippers,” — drivers who work downtown but take up spots on West Loop street.

“That’s not good for me because I also need a turnover of these spaces,” Sinclair said. “Why have the time limit if you can just up it from your phone?”

Park Chicago spokesman Scott Burnham said the app will allow drivers to re-up the time but said some drivers won’t want to park in those spots all day, since it might be cheaper to park in a lot or garage for the day. Burnham said the city is in charge of enforcement when it comes to parking duration.

But Sinclair said it might also be good for her customers, some of whom have to rush in and out of her store because of their metered spots outside: “If I have a customer that stays in the store longer as opposed to leaving to pay for the meter, that will be good for me.”