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Saturday, February 22, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Getting There: Spokane plans to extend mobile phone payment at parking meters

A downtown parking meter advertises the Passport Parking payment service Thursday, Jan 2, 2019, in Spokane, Washington. The City Council will consider extending its contract with the mobile parking payment service provider on Monday night. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
A downtown parking meter advertises the Passport Parking payment service Thursday, Jan 2, 2019, in Spokane, Washington. The City Council will consider extending its contract with the mobile parking payment service provider on Monday night. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Tired of rooting beneath passenger seats and reaching into the abyss of their center consoles, Spokanites are learning to embrace paying for parking with their mobile devices instead.

Spokane continues to see increased use of the Passport parking app, and on Monday the City Council is set to vote on an extension of its contract with the company that operates the service.

The contract, first signed in January 2018, is set to be renewed as Spokane continues to analyze the future of its downtown parking system, which was criticized for its myriad inefficiencies and confusion-inducing inconsistencies in a study published last year by transportation consultant company Nelson\Nygaard. Depending on which meter they pull up to, a motorist can pay for parking with a coin, card or with the app.

Last year, the city hired consultant Dixon Resources Unlimited to help navigate potential next steps for the city in improving its parking system, the future of which appears to include continued use of mobile apps for payment.

The app is a product of Passport Labs, a company based in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Pending City Council approval, the city’s new contract with Passport will be revised to reflect its rise in use since its launch.

The city pays Passport 10 cents for every transaction recorded by the app. When it signed the first contract with the company, the city budgeted $34,000 for those fees. For 2020, the city has estimated costs at $106,000.

Of course, that’s still good news for the city, which collects more money through the app than it pays out to Passport.

“While there is a fee for each transaction using the Passport app, there are also costs associated with customers using coin. City staff have to collect, transport, sort and count all of the coin – a process that takes several staff members several hours each day,” said Kirstin Davis, a city spokeswoman.

With less time spent managing the coin-based system, city staff are able to spend more time on actual enforcement, including responding to complaints in neighborhoods.

The app can be used to pay for parking at any Passport-enabled meter or kiosk in the city. Although payment is not reflected on the physical parking meter, the app transmits the license plate number to parking enforcement officials so they know the time is paid for.

Spokane residents also can purchase long-term parking permits through the app.

The company reported the figures compared well to other cities similarly sized to Spokane that have introduced the pay-by-phone option to their parking system.

When the app was introduced two years ago, about 20,000 transactions were recorded. That figure didn’t exceed 30,000 for the first six months it was in operation. But, every month since March, the app has been used more than 40,000 times.

A vast majority of the 37,000 parking spots downtown are on privately owned lots. The city owns only about 15% of spots downtown, but their use still resulted in about $3.17 million in meter revenue in 2018. Additionally, the city collected about $1.25 million in ticket revenue in 2018.

This will be the first time the city has renewed its contract with Passport. It will expire on Jan. 31, 2021, but can be extended on an annual basis to 2023.

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