Pay-by-Cell Phone Parking Plan Goes to Vote

Montgomery County considers letting Bethesda motorist pay for parking by phone

BETHESDA, Md. -- Motorists could pay to park in Bethesda by using their cell phones, under a plan being considered by the Montgomery County Council.

If the council approves the measure Thursday, the county would be the first D.C.-area jurisdiction to use the system, which is already in use in many European countries and in U.S. cities such as Coral Gables, Fla., and Decatur, Ga.

San Francisco recently concluded a pay-by-cell phone pilot program and plans to expand it citywide, a spokesman for the city's mayor said.

Details of the plan are still being developed, county officials said. However, motorists would probably pay by calling the phone number on the meter and entering the meter number, the cost and a credit card number, officials said. Motorists could also set up an online account.

A 25-cent surcharge would be added to the cost of parking.

People will still be able to pay with quarters, officials said.

"You don't need quarters, you don't have to guess how long you're going to be, because you'll get a text message that says, 'Your time is going to be up, would you like a little more?'" said County Councilman Roger Berliner. "By doing this, we (can make) the parking experience so much nicer."

Under the county's plan, drivers who return before their time has expired could get a partial refund.

Time limits would still be enforced, parking officials said.

The plan has broad support on the council, Berliner said, although at initial public hearings some members expressed concern that the county might lose revenue because fewer tickets might be issued and because of the refunds.

Nirav Thaker, a Columbia resident who found himself without any quarters after parking in downtown Bethesda on a recent evening, said he likes the idea. He said people are more likely to carry cell phones than a pocketful of change these days.

"It's about time," he said as he dashed off to get change for a dollar.

The lot at Bethesda and Woodmont avenues and the meters in the Elm Street garage will be the test areas for the new system if the Montgomery County Council approves it Thursday. If approved, the pilot could be up and running by late summer or early fall.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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