Pay-by-Phone Technology Now Available for Cincinnati’s Parking Meters

Smart Meter IdentificationCincinnati city officials announced last week that the more than 4,000 smart parking meters that have been installed throughout the city are now functioning in coordination with a new mobile app payment system.

The announcement fulfills a long-held desire for motorists looking for more convenient ways to pay parking meter fees.

It is expected that such technology will help reduce the amount of tickets that are dolled out since drivers will now be able to refill their meter from anywhere, simply by using their phone. Those without smartphones capable of operating the PassportParking app will also be able to use their phones to reload meters by visiting, or by calling 513-253-0493.

“This enhancement is part of the City’s ongoing parking modernization plan to improve the quality and efficiency of the City parking system,” officials stated in a prepared release. “In accordance with these efforts parking rates were adjusted earlier this year, and motorists saw the introduction of prepay and extended hours.”

In addition to the convenience for parkers, the new technology also allows for local businesses to register so that they can discount the parking costs for their customers.

While the new technology will make payments easier and more convenient, it does not help motorists locate available on-street parking spaces, or utilize dynamic pricing that would encourage those looking for a parking space to navigate toward a lesser used area.

While dynamic pricing has been mentioned as a future possibility by both Mayor John Cranley (D) and City Manager Harry Black, it has not yet been made clear when that will take place.

“Pay-by-phone parking is representative of what we are doing across our organization. We are using technology to enhance services we offer our residents and visitors,” said City Manager Black. “This technology won’t replace more traditional means of paying to park at a meter, but it gives people a new, convenient option that makes visiting Downtown or business districts across Cincinnati easier.”

The mobile payment app, which charges a 25-cent convenience fee, will only work for on-street parking meters and kiosks – not off-street lots or garages. In order to properly use the system, drivers will be asked to input the zone, along with the meter number, into the application so that the payment can be traced to that particular space, and thus monitored by parking enforcement officers.

All of this comes after the contentious cancellation of the parking lease agreement put into place by Mark Mallory‘s administration in 2013.

Under that agreement, the City would have leased its on-street parking meters, along with a number of garages and lots, to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority, which then was to enter into operation agreement with Xerox. In return, the City would have received a large upfront payment, along with guaranteed annual payments.

The new structure maintains more control at City Hall, but it misses on the upfront capital, along with the guaranteed payments.

Instead, the City takes on the risk of meeting revenue projections and keeping operation and maintenance costs within their targets. One thing that remains the same is the presence of Xerox, although their role appears to have been greatly diminished from what it would have been under the Mallory administration deal.

So far the response to the new parking meters and payment functionality has been positive, although some neighborhood business districts, where the meters are arriving for the first time, have experienced some temporary glitches with pricing and hours of operation programmed into the meter.

  • Steve Weide

    Unfortunately, this is just another step away from what the parking meters are supposed to be for. Parking meters are meant for short term parking. There is a reason they would only allow you to put an hour or 2 on them, that is all they are supposed to be used for. I remember at one point someone getting ticketed for refilling people’s meters ahead of them getting ticketed. When it says “One hour parking” that is supposed to mean the time limit for the area, not just what the meters will accept at a time.

    The idea is for short term parking to make sure there are spaces free for people who need them. If you need longer term parking, you should be at a lot or a garage. Now, the metered spots are no different than the lot or garage spots and people will sit in them all day. This means people going to a downtown business for an hour or 2 will have a much harder time finding a spot to park on the street and will be forced into the more expensive and usually farther away lot and garages. This of course means potentially less people visiting downtown businesses. The city is just looking at this as a another revenue source and making a cash grab instead of thinking long term.

    • TimSchirmang

      The technology allows the operators to impose time limits or achieve practically any other policy goal you want in the future. To help speed adoption it makes sense to just unroll the basic payment capabilities and get users on board the app/system, without scaring them away with a total policy overhaul. I don’t think it makes sense to view this as a permanent abandonment of short term parking and parking turnover.

      The city has always looked at meters as a revenue source. The technology may improve the top line and should definitely improve bottom line.

    • The maximum time limits are still in place. The app will not allow you extend your meter’s time beyond that maximum time limit.

    • matimal

      Which is why this will matter little to anyone. I park At meters in Cincinnati several times a week. I can’t imagine I’ll ever use this.