Wireless finds prime spot in pay-parking market

The company behind the technology calls it a simpler alternative to fishing for change and a way to cut down on fraud. A client labels it a competitive advantage.

Pay-by-phone parking is spreading on the West Coast and Verrus Mobile

Technologies Inc. aims to take it to rest of the continent.

David Spittel, a founding partner of the Vancouver-based pay-by-phone technology provider claims 74 per cent of Canadians that use pay-parking lots have cellular phones.

According to Jeremy Depow, a senior analyst with the Yankee Group in Canada, 36 per cent of Canadians and 47 per cent of Americans were cell phone subscribers in 2001. With the growing cell phone adoption rate and the presence of a wireless infrastructure that can now support wide-scale transactions on an open platform, Spittel figures the market is ripe for a parking solution he says benefits drivers, attendants and lot owners alike.

The service, which launched in Vancouver in Dec. 2001 and in Seattle in Jan. 2002, allows registered users to pay for parking by dialing a toll-free number at affiliated lots (three companies aside from Impark employ the system in Seattle). In Seattle, the service automatically detects the user’s phone number and lot location, while users in Vancouver for the time being have to enter their phone number and posted location number. When users want leave, they redial to end their parking session.

The charges, including a $0.25 convenience fee, are charged to the user’s credit card. Customers are charged by the half-hour or hour, as they would be if an attendant were present, though they pay for the increments they actually use.

“”It’s a much more convenient way to pay than to come up with quarters and loonies,”” Spittel says.One lot owner that has already implemented the technology is Vancouver-based Impark Parking Corp., which manages more than 250,000 parking spots in 22 North American cities. Verrus technology is currently deployed in 130 Impark lots in Vancouver, a figure which is scheduled to grow to 300 by the end of the month. Impark has an exclusive deal with Verrus that covers all of Canada and a number of United States cities. Gordon Craig, corporate service manager for Impark, says the company wants to have as much control over the technology’s use in the markets in which it operates.

“”We feel that it’s a competitive advantage to have this technology in use on our parking lots,”” he says, adding the ability to pay by phone can help build brand loyalty.

Owners of Verrus-equipped lots do lose some revenue from towing companies as the problem of customers forgetting to “”feed the meter”” is eliminated. But both Craig and Spittel said those loses are balanced by the elimination of costs associated with recouping revenues and overstaying customers whom the attendants don’t get to.

Though Craig says the technology is best for unmanned lots, attendants are still needed to monitor who has paid. Spittel says the technology makes life easier for these attendants who, with the Verrus system, monitor parked cars with Research in Motion Ltd.’s BlackBerry handhelds. In other cell phone-enabled lots, attendants use clunky, notebook-sized Corvallis readers, which only have a few hours of battery life, he says.

Impark plans to expand use of Verrus to its lots in Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto and Montreal over the next six months, after all kinks are worked out of the system during the Vancouver implementation.

“”This whole program involves tracking and storing sensitive data and it’s important to us to have a complete handle on everything before we spread it,”” Craig says.

Verrus, which was formed two years ago by veterans of Telus Mobility, Electronic Arts and Selkirk Financial Technology, also powers fan voting by phone at Carolina Hurricanes National Hockey League games and Seattle Mariners baseball contests. The company also plans to launch a service to allow Mariners fans to order concessions delivered to their seats by the mid-way point of this season. Spittel estimates the parking market is worth $29 billion in North America annually and that Verrus services will apply to $1.2 billion of that market.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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