Busy drivers can now use their phones to pay parking meters, even coin-operated ones, around Lexington.
The Lexington & Fayette County Parking Authority is installing stickers on all of the meters it monitors.
Here's how it works: You call and enter the number affixed to the parking meter, and the number of minutes you would like to park (but you can't exceed the limit for that space). Presto. Done.
The system requires that users set up accounts that include their license plate numbers and a credit card number.
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It is available on all meters — the newer centrally located ones and the coin-operated machines — except those that LexPark does not monitor: at the University of Kentucky and the Lexington Center parking lot.
"Europeans have been doing pay by phone for at least 10 or more years," said Gary Means, executive director of LexPark. "Gradually, cities in the United States have picked up on it."
The new system is just an option and is not required. But it resolves the oft-heard complaint that the city's increase in meter rates to $1 an hour makes it difficult to carry enough quarters to park at meters that don't have a credit card option.
Means said he got a ticket in another city for that very reason. "I would've paid it, but I didn't have the quarters," he said.
Some people also have complained, Means said, of the time it takes to walk over to the centrally located credit card machines, get receipts and walk back to their cars to display them.
Each time the pay-by-phone system is used, the user incurs a 35-cent fee in addition to the meter rate.
"While it would be great if it was free, it has to be paid for some way," Means said.
Those interested in using the service can call from their phones the first time without having to do any homework beforehand. A customer-service representative from Verrus, the company that administers the service, will record your information and give you online log-in information that you can use later to set up preferences.
One of those preferences is the option for users to receive a text message five minutes before the meter expires, Means said. They can call back and add more time, although they do incur another 35-cent fee. But that alleviates the need to run out and "feed the meter" when meetings run late, Means said.
So how does LexPark know you've paid? Two ways, both of which link to attendants using handheld computers. Before attendants begin in an area, they either log in and find out which vehicles have paid, or they can begin writing tickets and the software system will stop them, noting that the vehicle has paid.
"It even has enough capabilities that if you drove a different vehicle, you could push another number and charge that vehicle," Means said.
The pay-by-phone feature also allows people to log in online and download monthly reports showing how much was paid and where.
"That'll be useful for business people," Means said.