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by Cari StraussMarch 29, 2020Parking Operations

At some point, everyone who drives motor vehicles will have to pay for parking, but not all parking facilities are alike. The available payment options are more varied than ever. Whether it’s a parking garage for short-term parking or a facility for long-term parking at an airport, customers will encounter all kinds of parking payment systems. Historically, quarters have been the primary method of payment for street parking meters and parking lots. But today, times have drastically changed. This post will outline what all the different modern payment methods are, and how they work.

Cash Payment

Cash is king! Or, at least, it used to be. In the early days of parking meters, only quarters were accepted. For parking facilities staffed by employees, coins and cash were the only option. Today, while options have expanded, both coins and paper money are still accepted by many parking machines. With time, however, other payment methods have eclipsed cash as more popular. This is a good thing—cash payments have a number of potential pitfalls. These include:
  • Convenience: A lot of people don’t carry cash or coins with them, leaving them unable to use cash-only parking facilities
  • Operations: Cash is clunky to deal with and requires physical transport. It also makes it more difficult to determine payment amounts
  • Security: With cash payments, it’s much easier for dishonest employees to be able to pocket some of the money, or for thieves to commit a parking meter heist

Pay by Coupon

Also known as “pay and display” parking, this system requires that the customer pay in advance for a book of parking coupons. These coupons or vouchers are then left on the customer’s car dashboard, and display the time and date. Human parking attendants can then check what time each car was parked, and when their parking period is set to expire.

Pay by Disk

The pay by disk model is almost identical to paying by coupon: the customer pays the fee with a debit or credit card or cash, according to how much time they need, and then leave the disk on their dashboard. However, there is one key difference: Unlike coupons, which are single-use, the disk is reusable. The same disk can be used to pay for parking over and over. Disk parking systems are often found in parking facilities that have a time limit, but don’t charge money. However, they can be used in pay-to-park facilities as well.

Pay by Phone

With the advent of mobile apps, some facilities now offer a way to pay for parking with your phone. The convenience of mobile online payment is becoming more and more popular. Typically, this is done with a third-party app, which provides the service of accepting payments. The app charges the customer, and then reimburses the parking operator. To enforce parking, parking attendants can access a back-end database in the app that displays the license plate numbers and payment/time status for each car. When time is expired, the attendant will see it on their console and issue a parking ticket. Sometimes, these systems cost more due to server costs, convenience fees, and other factors. It’s up to the parking lot operator to ensure their system is cost-effective.

Extend by Phone

Used in conjunction with the pay by phone option, extend by phone allows customers to add parking time remotely. This is done within the same app they used to pay for parking, and lets them add time to the meter without returning to their car or a physical pay station. Once time is added, an alert is sent to the parking attendant, and the time is updated in the back-end database. If time runs out for a customer, many apps allow operators to set up a late fee after a pre-set grace period. Penalty parking fees could also be applied to a customer’s account remotely.

Pay by Plate

This system requires customers to pay in advance at a pay station upon arriving at the parking facility. At the pay station, they enter their plate number and pay via cash or payment card. Sometimes, information from the customer’s driver’s license may be required as well. Parking attendants can then use a console to see which plate numbers have time left, and which have expired.

Pay by Space

In the pay by space model, the customer pays at a pay station before they park. At the pay station, they can select from available parking spaces. They select a space number, and then park in that specific spot. Attendants can then view which parking spaces have paid, and which are parked illegally.

Pay on Foot

In a pay on foot facility, customers pay at a pay station before they leave. Once they pay, they take their receipt to the car and scan it at an exit terminal as they leave the facility. After payment, you are given a certain window of time within which you have to vacate the facility. This prevents people abusing the system. Modern pay on foot systems offer all kinds of payment types, from Visa and MasterCard to debit cards to American Express and, sometimes, even mobile payments.

Final Thoughts

Once only the domain of coins, parking payments now take a wide variety of forms. The result is a renaissance of choices for parking facility owners that offers reduced losses, lower costs, and more automation for customers and parking attendants alike.  

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