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500-plus drivers sign up for pay-by-phone parking option in West Loop

Some 500 drivers signed up for new pay-by-phone parking meter system that's being test driven West Loop. New street signs

Some 500 drivers signed up for a new pay-by-phone parking meter system that's being test driven in the West Loop. New street signs (pictured) include a zone number drivers use to plug into a phone app and pay for parking. | Tina Sfondeles/Sun-Times

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Updated: April 15, 2014 6:03PM



More than 500 people have already signed up to test drive Chicago’s pay-by-phone parking meter app.

The free app went live on Tuesday, kicking off a pilot program that gives motorists the option of paying for public parking spots by phone in the West Loop from Madison to Monroe and Halsted to Racine. That area makes up 279 metered spots.

The pilot program is expected to last up to three weeks before expanding to all 36,000 meters in the coming months.

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 your 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.

Some drivers who parked in the West Loop on Tuesday said they simply hadn’t installed the app yet. Others said they didn’t want to pay the 35-cent fee.

“I’m not using it because it’s additional money to pay for parking that’s already expensive,” said Kristen Szabla, 31, of the West Loop.

Szabla said she often parks on Madison Street to run errands. Her nanny takes her home garage spot during the day.

“I always have to park for under two hours,” Szabla said. “It’s not worth it to me. I’d rather just walk to the machine.”

A portion of the convenience fee will go to the operators of the app and to pay for credit card transaction fees, according to Chicago Parking Meters spokesman Scott Burnham. He said Chicago Parking Meters gets what is left over to cover expenses, including its call center, customer service initiatives, labor and 40,000 street signs that will ultimately go out to alert drivers of the new app. But the amount the company gets is capped, with the city receiving anything above that.

During the test phase Chicago Parking Meters — which leased the city’s 36,000 parking meters as part of a 75-year deal that began in 2008 – and the app vendor Passport Parking, Inc. will get feedback from drivers and work out any kinks, before expanding the program.

Email: tsfondeles@suntimes.com

Twitter: @TinaSfon



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