Smart Parking For Smart Phones – Staying One Step Ahead of the Meter Reader

You're enjoying lunch with an important client, when suddenly you realize that although you fed the parking meter six quarters, your time is about to expire. Do you jump up and run a few blocks to replenish the meter? Or do you stay with your client and hope the meter police don’t make it to your car before you do? In downtown Columbia, MO, there is another solution.

Over the course of the past two years, the City of Columbia has experimented with new parking meters that are compatible with nearly every smartphone. The meters, which have now been installed at many on-street parking spaces in Columbia’s downtown district, can accept payment by coin, by credit/debit card, or remotely via your cell phone and an app known as Parkmobile.

The program is simple, and depending on your operating system, the appropriate app is available from the Apple App Store, Google Play, the Windows Store, Blackberry App World and from Amazon. Here’s how it works: Users download the appropriate version of the Parkmobile app and set up an account. The system requires you to pre-register a credit or debit card, provide a billing address and list the license plate of the car you drive most frequently. Once your account is activated, you can use the app to pay for parking at any meter in downtown Columbia bearing the Parkmobile sticker. The meters look like this:

Every meter has been assigned a “zone” number printed clearly on the side of the device. To park, simply enter the zone number, select the amount of time you would like to purchase in that space and confirm your selection. It is truly that easy. You can set the app to send you a reminder text message 15 minutes before your meter is due to expire, and you can reload your meter remotely up to the maximum allowable time for that space. (Some meters are short term, so you have to move your car at the end of the time limit or you may still get a ticket.)

If you are driving a different car than the one you originally registered, you can change the license number in the phone without additional registration requirements. There is a 45 cent surcharge added to each transaction that helps pay for the system and it applies each time you load or reload the meter. That may seem a little expensive considering that the normal parking rate is 60 cents per hour – but if you consider that a typical parking ticket will cost you $10.00 – the cost for convenience and compliance may be well worth the added expense.

Additionally, if you are reimbursed by your company for your parking activity, you can retrieve a record of all your parking activity during the previous month at no additional cost. The Columbia, MO Parkmobile parking system is the first of its kind to be adopted in the state, although limited versions of the program have now been implemented in parts of St. Louis and Kansas City. The same app can be used in each of the Missouri communities listed, as well as other Parkmobile locations throughout the United States. According to Katie Essing, executive director of the Columbia Downtown Community Improvement District, the program has been met with a high level of acceptance. “We now have thousands of students and other young professionals living and working in the downtown area, and we have seen a high adoption rate for this kind of technology in Columbia.

It’s convenient, it’s simple and it helps the city maintain on-street parking options in a community that is growing rapidly,” noted Katie. The next time you are in downtown Columbia, MO, don’t worry about fumbling for change in your purse or glove box – and don’t even think about ditching your dinner date for a quick dash to the meter. Just grab your cell phone and stake your claim to your favorite parking spot – and stay one step ahead of the dreaded parking police.