Champaign City Council approves pay-by-cell parking service

By Angelica Lavito

Finding spare change to pay for parking meters can be stressful, but that’s soon going to change. 

Beginning in November, people parking in Champaign will have the option to feed the meter from the convenience of their cell phones.

The Champaign City Council voted 9-0 to enter a five-year, $75,000 contract with PassportParking, Inc. to provide pay-by-cell parking services. It’s the largest provider of pay-by-cell services regionally, according to a study session report. 

Mayor Don Gerard said the main benefit of the system is the convenience it will give to people.

“The nice thing is that if you are at a restaurant or if you haven’t bought enough time, it’ll send you a text saying, ‘Hey, you need to buy more time,’” he said. “It’s a very 21st century convenience that I think people will really appreciate.”

Kris Koester, public information officer for Champaign, said the city has been exploring alternative payment options for several years. He said that in the past they have tried to install credit card meters; however, it was unsuccessful. 

“This is an alternative that already exists on the University of Illinois campus,” Koester said. “It requires no equipment costs, and the people are familiar with it in different ways. It was the next choice for us to go to.”

The University already has a mobile parking payment service in place through PayByPhone Technologies, Inc. 

However, a panel of staff from the Public Works and Planning and Development departments ranked PayByPhone last in mobile parking payment services because it does not provide a system for merchant validation of parking transactions, according to the report.

“(Passport provides) a lower transaction fee for customers,” Koester said. “The University of Illinois’ is 35 cents, and we will charge 25 cents.”

The 25-cent transaction fee is added onto the meter fee that users pay to park. First-time users of Passport create an account that stores their payment and vehicle information. 

To help users, Passport sends them a notification 15 minutes before their time expires. Users then have the option to extend their time without any fee, as long as they extend the time before their original time expires. 

“(Passport) offers them convenient ways of their time expiring, or being a way to track how much they’re spending through an online account,” Koester said. 

Passport users also have the option to add money to their account in addition to paying for each parking meter individually. This helps the city because it is more expensive to process numerous small transactions, as opposed to one larger transaction. For each $20 added, Champaign will add $1 to the user’s account. 

“If they spend so much money, then they actually get free money from the city,” Koester said. “If they spend $20 or more, they get additional dollars put into their account if they so choose.”

Angelica can be reached at [email protected]