Lovely Rita, Meter Maid
It finally happened. I found a prime spot on West 4th, ready to run some errands and grab some dinner, so I pulled in, turned off the car, and reached for my wallet. Only to find… no change.
Living in a society that’s gone to an almost entirely plastic system of currency exchange, keeping enough change around for parking meters is a challenge, and I quite honestly usually chance the ticket rather than first find a bank machine that will give me cash (without the “not your bank, sucker” service fee), then a merchant that will make change.
The City of Vancouver has contracted Verrus to manage pay-by-phone parking at most meters in the city. I had my first experience using it the other day. Here’s how it works:
Pull up to the meter, take out your cell phone, and dial 604-909-PARK. The service recognizes the ID of the phone you’re calling from and will use it to pull up your account. Just enter the location number on the meter, the number of minutes you’d like to park for (up to the meter’s maximum), listen to the recording that confirms your vehicle and parking details, and continue on your merry way. The process takes less time than digging through the ashtry for enough change.
There are two ways to set up the service. You can go online and set up an account at vancouver.ca/paybyphone, or the service will run you through all the setup options on your first call (a somewhat tedious process). If you already have a Verrus account, there’s no need to set up another – it all runs on the same network. You’re also able to include an infinite number of license plates on your account for those multi-car families, or those who make use of the CAN cars in their area.
The parking meters won’t show the amount of time you have on their display, instead a meter-checker (I’m sure that’s their official title) will enter the license plate of a car parked at an expired meter into his or her handheld computer to see if the car comes up as having paid. If your time has run out you’ll be ticketed, however there’s also an option for users to receive a text message 5 minutes before time expires, so you can either stop window shopping and get the heck outta dodge, or just phone in to add more time.
Of course, I’ll still take my chances when it comes to pullig up to a meter and not paying for 5 minutes to run in and out of a store, or not bother topping it up when I know time has run out and I’m either going to leave soon, or there’s only 15 minutes left until meter enforcement stops for the day.
However I also believe that if given the opportunity to conveniently pay for a service, even on the honour system, people will. And even with the $0.30 service fee per parking transaction (whether you’re paying $1/h in Kits or $4/h on Georgia downtown), I’ve probably paid more at meters in the last week than I have in the previous six weeks combined – not because I’ve parked at meters less, but because it’s now easier to pay for it.