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Still no flying cars, but Houston gets pay-by-cellphone parking: Friendly reminders included

The cellphone payment option is official this week, adding yet another way to pay for street parking without change. Photo by Tyler Rudick
A free app will be available for smartphones, although cellphone users can still make a mobile payment by calling the number listed on electronic meters. Photo by Tyler Rudick

The future of parking is upon us . . . 

A new cellphone payment system will be announced Thursday morning by City of Houston officials. It's part of the continued effort to streamline public parking that began with the implementation of more than 700 solar-electric meters that forever freed downtown parkers from the endless search for change.

While stickers describing the mobile payment option have adorned meters for weeks and the option's been available for use, larger street signs marking specific downtown parking zones will be added by the Parking Management Division, which currently oversees nearly 6,000 parking spaces throughout the city.

 “We may not have floating cars yet, but this is pretty futuristic stuff," Newport said. 

“It’s a slick system,” said Chris Newport, public information officer for Parking Management. “You populate the new app with your license plate and credit card information. Once that’s in the system, you just enter the parking zone number and you're done. If you don't have the app, you can just call the number listed on the meter.”

When there are only 15 minutes left on your parking space, the new system sends a warning via email or a text,  giving you the option to pay for more time (unless you’ve parked in a time-restricted space, of course).

The push toward cellphone payments started in 2009, when the city purchased new software and handheld devices from T2 Systems, a technology company specializes in wireless parking solutions.

Working with the European-based software provider Parkmobile — which is currently used in cities like Atlanta, Chicago, Seattle and Boston — Houston Parking Management and T2 were able to devise an integrated network to connect customers directly with parking authorities.

“Whenever someone completes a transaction, the payment and license plate information are sent to the handheld units carried by parking officers,” Newport said. “The system eliminates a lot of paper and a lot of paperwork. It’s a great environmental solution that will save money for the city of Houston in the long term.

“We may not have floating cars yet, but this is pretty futuristic stuff.”

On Thursday morning at a 10 a.m., there will be a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Discovery Green, where mayor Annise Parker will make her first mobile parking payment via iPhone.

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