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City to launch pay-by-phone parking pilot project

Pay-by-phone parking

The city is set to launch a pilot project that would see those parking on Oshawa’s streets able to pay their toll through a cell phone app, rather than by credit card.

2015-03-03

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

In an effort to move away from rising credit card communication costs, the city is looking into launching a pay by phone pilot project for its municipal parking.

The pilot project, approved by the community services committee last week, will allow drivers to pay for on-street parking using a cell phone app.

With the contract for its pay and display machines coming to an end in September, the city is looking to decrease the rising operational costs associated with the equipment, which has more than quadrupled since its inception in 2005.

Operating costs were under $50,000 when the equipment was first installed. Those costs have skyrocketed to an estimated $290,000 for 2015.

Warranty agreements, replacing parts not covered under warranty and the communication fees for credit card payments are all factors in the rising costs, a report from the city states.

The pay by phone project will work along with the current pay methods at first, to allow staff to get a better idea of what methods customers prefer for payment, says Jag Sharma, commissioner of community services.

“What we’re looking to do is layer it over top of our existing system as a pilot,” Sharma tells The Oshawa Express. “(Users) will not experience anything different until we make decisions in the future.”

Currently, the city operates 98 pay and display machines. Credit card payments amounted to $158,000 in revenue last year – 20 per cent of the total parking revenue – but operating costs were pegged at $96,000.

The remaining 80 per cent of parking revenue, totaling $615,000, is attributed to coin and cash payments.

The small amount of users paying by credit card could mean the option will be phased out in the future, Sharma says.

“When you start looking at that, it only serves a small fraction of usage,” Sharma says. “Perhaps council will give consideration as to whether they want to just go with the cash and pay by phone options.”

The city’s machines are near the end of their life and to replace a unit equipped with credit card technology will come at a cost of $16,000 per unit. This would mean a $1,560,000 investment to replace all 98 machines.

However, the cash-only machines are less than half the price, coming in at only $7,000.

Sharma says the pilot project will work to figure out the best decision moving forward.

The recommendation to proceed with the project passed with only Councillor John Neal against the idea.

Neal said he would like to have some commentary from the Durham Regional Police on the prospect of having pay by phone parking leading to increasing distracted driving on the city’s streets.

“From what I’m seeing, the way they’re talking about distracted driving… I can’t support something like this until I hear from Durham Region Police,” Neal said. “It doesn’t make sense to me.”