Coming soon to a parking space near you: “pay by plate”

The city is hoping that it can make paying for street parking faster, easier, and more convenient.

Over the past several years SDOT has been moving away from individual meters to pay stations. From that upgrade came the ability to pay for parking with a credit card. It also allowed SDOT to adjust parking rates for different times of the day, as a tool to manage demand and ensure availability of parking. In 2012, the city also embraced allowing people to pay for parking on their smart phones; they claim that currently 29% of parking is paid for by phone.

But now they are rolling out a new system: “pay by plate.” Rather than having to print out a parking sticker and affix it to the window of your car, you will type your car’s license plate into the pay station and the city’s parking system will record your payment and time allowed — no sticker required, no need to go back to your car.

In theory, it will be even easier: you can set up an account that lists your credit card and the license plates of all your cars. At a pay station, when you swipe your credit card it will present you a list of your vehicles; you choose the right license plate and the amount of time you want to park for, and you’re done. Plus, after the fact you can go online and get records and receipts for all of your parking payments for the past two years (for example, if you need to submit an expense report later).

Going to an all-electronic system raises issues about verification and enforcement, and in a briefing today on the new system the Council members asked several questions about how that would work. The Good-to-Go automated tolling system has taught us that automated systems make mistakes and records get lost. The pay stations will still allow you to print a receipt. SDOT was unclear on exactly what the administrative process would be for contesting a parking ticket. They also admitted that they had not done a Race and Social Justice Initiative analysis on the new system to understand if it would create barriers for people without access to a credit card (the stations will still take cash, but it will be less convenient).  And of course they need to get the security and privacy requirements right, as well as to integrate with third-party manufacturers’ pay station equipment. Anticipating the change, in recent months they have already been installing pay stations that will be compatible with the “pay by plate” system, so they’re already ahead of the game a bit in moving to the new thing.

But before they can roll out pay-by-plate, the city’s parking ordinances need to be updated to generalize the rules for how the city posts parking requirements, and for the means by which it can accept payments. A bill to do that is now working its way through the Council’s legislative process.