More than a million people have downloaded a paid parking mobile app, according to PPA

Of course, people love to hate the Philadelphia Parking Authority for “courtesy” tows, tickets, and even, sometimes, its expensive real estate deals.

But give the agency credit for being able to streamline the way people pay for metered street parking.

Late last month, the authority’s meterUp phone payment app was downloaded for the millionth time since December 2017. Just under 70% of metered payments in the city are now made on mobile devices , according to PPA officials.

“It’s a benefit to the public that gives them flexibility and convenience,” said Corinne O’Connor, director of on-street services at the Philadelphia Parking Authority. “No need to enter coins into a counter and no need to return to a kiosk to add extra time.”

Laughing, O’Connor said, “You can point out how nicer and sweeter the parking authority is.” Customer complaints plummeted.

Before too long, the traditional mechanical parking meter might be found only in museums and on eBay.

The shift to virtual parking has accelerated across the country over the past five years or so. Parkmobile, the authority’s meterUp contractor, runs pay-per-app programs for about 3,000 cities, said Brendon Crowther, project manager in PPA’s on-street division.

When parking kiosks first started arriving in 2005, there were 15,000 coin-operated meters on the streets of Philadelphia, O’Connor said.

All those single-head counters were cluttering things up, not to mention the cost of maintaining them and collecting tons of parts, she said. “We kind of wanted to reduce the furniture,” O’Connor said.

Traditional count of meters today: about 450.

Virtual payment has eclipsed state-of-the-art kiosks that accept credit cards.

“It’s so much cheaper for cities, because they don’t have to pay for hardware,” Donald Shoup, a UCLA urban planning professor and parking expert, told the Inquirer in 2018. “In some cities , the only way to pay for parking is with an app. There are no parking meters; there is no hardware.

PPA stopped accepting cash at its curbside kiosks — they still accept credit cards — and that was “a driving factor that made people want to switch to meterUp,” O’Connor said.

About 27% of on-street parking customers pay in person at kiosks with credit cards, the agency said, and mechanical meters generate 3% of the fee.

MeterUp users can cancel unused time or renew a parking space before the maximum time they have paid expires, although the rate doubles and then triples, designed as a turnover incentive. (Spaces cannot be renewed a third time.)

Parkmobile LLC, which is based in Atlanta, charges users 40 cents per transaction.

Tickets for parking beyond the time limit are $36 downtown, $26 elsewhere.

The first coin-gobbling parking meter, known as Park-O-Meter No. 1, appeared in downtown Oklahoma City in 1935, invented by a lawyer and editor to keep traffic flowing and stores going. full.

In 1937 they were on the streets of Atlantic City and Wilmington. Philadelphia took a cautious approach, and the first meters did not appear in the city until the late 1940s.

This time, however, the city was an early adopter of parking technology.

Casey J. Nelson