The Town of Bel Air is going to expand the ways people can pay to park in the downtown area by signing up for a mobile phone app.
A contract between the town and ParkMobile, a national provider of smart parking payment and reservation solutions, was approved at the Board of Town Commissioners meeting Monday night.
According to the company’s website, “People can use ParkMobile solutions to quickly pay for on-street and garage parking without having to use a meter or kiosk. Additionally, ParkMobile offers parking reservations at stadium venues for concerts and sporting events. Reservations are also available in metro areas, allowing people to drive into the city without having to worry about finding parking.”
Initially, the ParkMobile app being developed for Bel Air will allow a visitor to pay for metered parking in town without having to use coins or a town issued smart payment card, the latter which works only on about half of the 300 or so meters in town. The app will bill through the user’s designated credit card provider.
Town Planning Director Kevin Small said there may be more changes for parking in the future, with the ParkMobile app being a pilot. He said one goal is to encourage more people to use the parking garage at Hickory and Pennsylvania avenues where the first level spaces are metered and typically aren’t used in great numbers.
Bel Air also has metered parking along Main Street between Churchville Road and Gordon Street and along parts of Lee Street, Bond Street, Hays Street, Thomas Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, most of the latter locations in the vicinity of the District Court. The town also has metered public lots off Hickory Avenue, off Lee Street and off Main Street by the Sheriff’s Office headquarters.
Meters operate from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. The charge is 50 cents for one hour, but downtown meters also give 15 minutes free.
There are also parking limits posted on signs where there are no meters, on other streets within downtown and nearby, including a merchants lot off Pennsylvania Avenue and Main that has limits ranging from 15 minutes to two hours.
Small said the town will divide the metered areas into numbered zones. A person with a ParkMobile Bel Air app will then be able to pull into a metered space in a particular zone, key in the zone number and the time they need to park, and the information will be entered into a data base and the cost of the parking billed to the user’s designated credit card.
One caveat, Small explained, is the current limits on metered spaces can’t be exceeded, so the user could face being fined $15 for an expired meter. Meters on Main Street have a two-hour limit, according to town parking regulations, meters in the parking garage have a four-hour limit.
He said the system allows the town’s parking enforcement staff to check online where it will show the vehicle’s license plate and the parking fee has been paid, even though the meter will show it is expired.
Small said the town, which has a detailed parking study on the books, will probably look at changing some of the current time limits on parking.
Asked why the town still uses meters at all when many cities and towns have done away with them in favor of payment kiosks or other smart payment systems, Small said such changes could be considered in the future.
“We still have a lot of people who like using coins,” he said, while adding that the kiosks at which people buy a timed ticket and place it on their dashboard, are expensive to install and maintain.
Town Commissioner Philip Einhorn said he was skeptical of the app plan when it was first proposed.
“I was not for this,” Einhorn told his fellow town commissioners. “We have a lot of senior citizens who park in town” who rely on using coins, he said.
But Einhorn said he was given assurances by Small and Town Administrator Jesse Bane that the meters will continue to accept coins, so he voted to accept the contract with ParkMobile.
On an average year, Bel Air collects more than $175,000 from its parking meters. The fiscal 2019 budget the town is operating under now projects annual collections will be $182,000 through June 30 next year.
The town also expects to collect $129,000 in parking fines this fiscal year, along with $68,500 in parking lease fees. It share’s ownership of the six-level parking garage with Harford County government.
The town won’t pay ParkMobile for its app service. For each transaction, a user will pay a 35-cent convenience fee to the vendor, 10 cents to the user’s credit card company and 5 cents to the town, a total of 50 cents.
Small said the town will use its share toward advertising the new convenience to those who need to park, including placing stickers on meters to explain the app is available.
Although the ParkMobile app does allow for reservations, which Small said might work in the parking garage, the Bel Air won’t provide for that to start, nor will there be any GPS capabilities to show a visitor where a space might be open.
He said, however, that the town will continue to look at all possibilities to help make parking more user friendly in the future.
Among Maryland towns and cities using ParkMobile apps are Frederick and Ocean City, according to the company.
Small said he talked to Frederick’s parking administrator, and the person told him “it’s the best thing they’ve ever done; they’re really satisfied.”