parking_meters.jpgPeople looking for parking in San Francisco can now use their phone to pay a parking meter in certain neighborhoods, a service that will be expanded throughout the entire city in the coming months.

The PayByPhone service, which started Wednesday in the city’s Castro District, is “the intersection of two things in San Francisco that are very important here–one is parking and the other is technology,” said Ed Reiskin, director of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.

The service allows customers to pay a parking meter by calling a toll-free number or using a smartphone app, and also gives a reminder text message when time on the meter is almost up. The service charges a 45-cent fee for each transaction.

“Who wouldn’t want to have this application right at their fingertips to avoid the hurt of a parking ticket?” Mayor Ed Lee said.

Although the service is starting in the Castro, it will be expanded to the rest of the city by spring 2012. People should look for the blue PayByPhone sticker on the side of the meter to see if it is part of the program, officials said.

The program is expected to come at no cost to the city, since possible losses in parking ticket revenue would be made up for with increases in parking meter revenue.

“That’s exactly how it should be,” said Supervisor Scott Wiener, who called the service “a model for other cities and counties around the area and country.”

The 45-cent fee will go to PayByPhone, the company overseeing the program.

Reiskin defended the fee, which goes toward credit card processing fees and other costs.

“Compared to the cost of a parking ticket,” up to $65 in the city, “it’s a pretty good deal,” he said.

Graham Bird, executive chairman of PayByPhone, said the service is already being used in other cities around North America and Europe, including London, Paris, New Orleans, and Miami.

Bird said many of those cities have actually seen revenues go up because “you’re not restricted by the number of coins in your pocket.”

When paying by phone, the meter does not register that more time has been added, but a handheld device used by Department of Parking and Traffic officers will be able to see the minutes remaining on the meter.

Bird acknowledged that the service can technically be used on any of the 30,800 meters currently in the city, but advised against it because DPT officers will not know to check the handheld devices unless the meter has the PayByPhone decal on it.

To use the service, call (866) 490-7275 or download the PayByPhone app at, then enter the meter location number and desired length of stay.

The first 5,000 people to register for the service will have the 45-cent fee waived for their first two transactions.

People with Near Field Communications technology on their smartphone can also tap the “NFC” logo on the meter to initiate a streamlined payment process.

For more information about the service, visit

Dan McMenamin, Bay City News

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