Parking your car? Garages and meters going cashless

John Egan
Personal Finance Writer
Writes trendy stories about credit cards.

Parking garages, meters going cashless

 

If you are paying to park, you better have a debit or credit card. Parking meters and garages and meters may not take your bills and coins.

What’s driving the push toward pay-by-card systems at parking facilities? With cashless meters and garages, parking facility owners and operators say there’s no risk of cash being stolen.

Another reason: “Most citizens do not carry large amounts of coins in their pockets or wallets,” says Noel Correia, director of the parking division for Santa Fe, New Mexico.

In Santa Fe, the city’s 1,133 parking meters recently added the ability to pay with a credit or debit card, as well as coins. Going forward, Correia expects at least 70 percent of payments on the city’s parking meters to be made by card.

In San Antonio, all 14 of the city-controlled downtown parking facilities began accepting payments by card – in addition to cash – a few years ago. 

Debbie Rios-Vanskike, a San Antonio spokeswoman, says the card-and-coin combo allows payment flexibility, and that flexibility has led to an uptick in use of downtown parking facilities. 

At parking garages, paying with cards grows

It’s not just parking meters that are adding card readers or going cashless. Parking garages are, too. 

“We continue to see a decline in the use of cash as a payment method,” says Jeff Eckerling, senior vice president of revenue and growth at parking facility operator SP+.  As a result, many new SP+ garages “only accept credit and debit cards or prepayments,” he said. Cash is no longer an option.

Chris Prichard, senior associate at parking consulting firm Walter P. Moore, says more garages are converting to card-only systems. He envisions this being the norm within the next five years. 

While most of the parking garages Walter P. Moore has worked on accept cash and cards at walk-up payment machines, card-only payment systems are being installed at exits. 

As such, cashiers in booths are going the way of elevator operators. 

"We continue to see a decline in the use of cash as a payment method."

From cashless to cardless?

Soon you may not need cash or cards to find and pay for your parking spot. 

IPS Group, which specializes in “smart” parking technology, introduced in May 2017 a mobile parking-payment app called Park Smarter. Register your credit cards and you can use Visa Checkout or Masterpass to pay for your parking. The app includes a parking finder that provides directions to open spaces, and it sends alerts in advance of parking expiration so users can “feed the meter” virtually. 

In promoting Park Smarter, Visa suggests the app also can help you to park cheaper. According to a Visa survey, three-fourths of U.S. drivers overpay with coins at parking meters. 

Passport, another parking app, lets you pay via credit or debit card, and it lets you know when it’s time to move your car or add money to keep your parking spot. Among the app’s customers are city parking agencies in Chicago, Boston, Detroit, Austin, Texas, and San Jose, California.

Company spokeswoman Kim Kufel says the Passport app offers the flexibility to pay from one of several credit or debit card accounts. “If you have a business credit and your own credit card and you’re going to a business meeting, you can use your business card to pay for your parking rather than your personal credit card,” Kufel says. 

We hail a ride in a taxi or with Uber or Lyft with our phones, why not use your phone to find a parking spot and pay for it, too? 

Card fraud leads some to prefer using cash

Not everyone is racing to go cards-only at parking facilities, though. Brian Alexander, industry sales manager at Crane Payment Innovations, cites the risk of card fraud as one reason some people will always prefer to pay for parking with cash.

In a January 2016 opinion piece in the magazine of the International Parking Institute, Alexander wrote: “Many have faced the difficulty of having their personal data compromised and having to deal with the time-consuming and stressful aftermath.”

“For those drivers, cash can be a more attractive option for transactions that are quick and simple.” 

"Cash can be a more attractive option for transactions that are quick and simple."

Cards make for ‘hassle-free’ parking

Times, and parking payment methods, are changing.

Eckerling, the SP+ executive, says that as more parking customers hunt for alternatives to paying with cash, the company is enabling advanced parking reservations on its mobile app and website. 

Also, SP+ is upgrading technology at parking facilities that permit on-the-spot mobile payments made via credit card, he says. “As more consumers are using credit cards exclusively, we are focused on creating a more-convenient and hassle-free experience,” Eckerling says. 

See related: How to save on parking when shopping, Infographic: Most Americans OK with going cashless, At music festivals, cashless is all the rage, Video: Food trucks are leaving cash in the dust


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Updated: 12-12-2018