Privacy concerns over Portland’s parking pay-by-phone meters

Privacy concerns versus huge time saver benefits add to debate over Portland’s parking pay-by-phone meters
By Oregon Small Business Association

Beginning in August, the Pearl District will become the first local community to experiment with a mobile parking solution that allows customers to pay-to-park via their cell phone. Some have expressed concerns about consumer privacy and law enforcements’ potential use of the recorded information. Theoretically, Parkmobile and other mobile parking solutions subject users to possible digital tracking, detailed information of users’ whereabouts and location habits that could be used against them or in ways they might not like. Already Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Andriod-based phone have come under attack from the public for not disclosing how those phones archive a user’s whereabouts.

Proponents of mobile parking acknowledge privacy concerns but believe that enacting laws to restrict the use of the information gathered would help allay fears and breed trust among consumers and watchdog groups concerned about privacy.

Here’s how the new City pay-by-phone system is expected to works:

For a 35-cent transaction fee, users simply press a few buttons on their cell phone and presto—an authorized credit card payment is submitted for predetermined meter time. In the middle of an important meeting but your parking meter is about to expire? No problem. A text message warning will be sent directly to your phone. Simply press a few more buttons and meter time can be added for an additional 35 cents.

The 35-cent fee has been compared to an insurance policy for parking – a small fee to avoid a more costly ticket.

Consider it the cost of convenience.

No more walking to meters with baby in tow. No more rummaging through the ashtray for quarters. No more hustling back to the car only to find your windshield accessorized with a ticket. Parkmobile allows users to conveniently manage their parking situation through a smart phone app, a mobile browser, or by calling a number posted nearby on the street. Other benefits include the improved ability to pay only for the time needed and to pay for several cars through one account, as well as the possibility of “progressive fines” so that a ticket’s cost better reflects the extent of the infraction. San Francisco’s mobile parking program is even experimenting with curbside sensors that will notify drivers by phone of available parking spots.

Still in its early stages, mobile parking is catching on. Parkmobile currently operates in roughly 100 municipalities and communities. If all goes well with the Pearl District’s 90-day trial, Portland will actively consider long-term expansion plans.

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