fb-pixel Skip to main content

Getting smart about metered parking

Boston building mobile alternative to feeding the insatiable meter

Amy Coon of Duxbury searched her purse for quarters to pay for a metered parking space in Boston. A proposed smartphone app would change the way drivers pay for street spots.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

It’s pure gold for the frustrated Boston driver: a metered parking spot on Beacon Hill or in the South End. But then comes the real frustration: Realizing after digging under the seat or scouring the drink holder that there’s no quarter to plunk into the meter.

Soon, there will be an app for that.

The city’s Transportation Department is developing a smartphone application that would eliminate the scramble for cash, by using an iPhone, Android, or BlackBerry to pay for a metered parking slot.

“Two things people have in their pockets: They have a credit card. And they have a cellphone,” interim Transportation Commissioner James Gillooly said. “We aspire to have everybody use a credit card or pay by phone.”


The pay-by-phone program is not expected to begin until the fall, while the Transportation Department and the municipal technical staffers in the Office of New Urban Mechanics work out details and research similar systems in other cities.

The technology would require users to download the app; register their vehicle information, including license plate number; and plug in credit card details. After pulling into a spot, drivers would open the app on their phone, tap in the name of the street where they are parking, and then pay.

The app would warn motorists when their time is about to expire, allowing them to add more time without having to bolt from restaurants, bookstores, or meetings to feed the meter. Drivers can park for a maximum of two hours at most city meters.

The app would be integrated with the Transportation Department’s parking and enforcement system, so that parking enforcers walking their routes would be able to plug in a driver’s license plate number and determine if the spot is paid for or if time is up.

Gillooly said drivers may have to pay a small fee for the technology.


The program would target many of the newer meters — those that accept both credit cards and quarters — in neighborhoods such as the Back Bay, officials said.

Drivers downtown seeking coveted street parking one morning last week had mixed feelings about the planned app.

Kim Zayotti, founder of Blue Sky Sports & Entertainment in Norwell, said the app would ease her twice-weekly headache of finding downtown parking for business meetings and keeping the meter fed.

“We’re always scrounging for quarters,’’ Zayotti said. “A lot of time, you get to your meeting on time and then the meeting runs long, and you kind of get into trouble’’ with a parking enforcer.

Michele Wiley, a hairdresser on Water Street, said she doesn’t plan to use the app because she refuses to give out credit card information.

“I’d rather do this,’’ she said, depositing a few quarters into a meter.

Drivers parking streetside already have an assortment of payment options, with quarters, dollar bills, and credit cards. The city also offers prepaid Boston Meter Cards to swipe at meters in popular shopping, business, and entertainment districts such as Faneuil Hall, downtown, and the South End.

The planned smartphone technology would add another element of convenience for a public growing used to tapping their phones to shop for books, music, or clothing.

“We use the smartphone for everything now,’’ said Matt Carson, a New Hampshire sprinkler fitter, after parking downtown recently for work. “This will be a big help, especially in areas where you only use quarters. You won’t have to bring a roll of quarters every day.”


City Councilor Tito Jackson, who recently called a hearing on the proposed app, said residents have been urging a better way to pay for parking.

“They will have the convenience of paying for parking and hopefully not get as many tickets,” said Jackson, whose district includes the South End and Fenway.

Smartphone parking apps are all the rage in Europe and have been catching on in the United States, including in Miami, New York, and Washington, D.C. Miami Beach officials introduced two mobile apps in May, Parkmobile and ParkMe, that let drivers locate city parking and provide turn-by-turn directions. Washington allows drivers to use their smartphones to pay for parking at all metered spaces, according to the city’s website.

And New York officials are hoping to expand mobile parking payment throughout the boroughs after the success of two smartphone pilot programs in the Bronx last year. Drivers can now pay for metered parking via smartphone and view real-time curbside parking availability for 264 spaces along 18 blocks in the Bronx.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority long ago caught on to smartphone parking, and since 2009 has allowed patrons to purchase spots with their smartphones at dozens of parking lots.

Motorists in Boston pay dearly for letting their meters run dry. Meter violations represent more than a third of all parking violations, according to data provided by the city. In fiscal 2013, the Transportation Department issued 455,467 tickets to drivers who failed to feed the meter, went over the limit, or were not parked in a metered space. The department collected some $11.8 million for those violations.


Gillooly said the app has an additional benefit: It would cut down on the quarters the city collects. In fiscal year 2012, 83 percent of the money collected from meters came in quarters and the rest in dollar bills and credit card payments. After the department added modern meters, the percentage of quarters dipped to 81 percent.

“I dream of a future where I can see no meters out there, if people are using this’’ technology, Gillooly said.

Not every one is excited about the app. Medford resident Albert Metais, European stylish in a light blue blazer, strapped on his helmet near his Vespa scooter, which was parked near a fire hydrant on Water Street.

Asked how the smartphone would ease his parking experience, Metais smiled and quipped, “For me, I park anywhere,’’ he said, mounting his Vespa scooter. “I don’t need that app.”

Then he rode off.

Meghan E. Irons can be reached at meghan.irons@globe.com.