Arts & Culture News

We Tested the New Parking App That's Supposedly Tons Better Than Pay-By-Phone

It felt like we had entered a new era of technology when Dallas first got Pay-By-Phone, a mobile app that lets drivers use their phones to pay for parking meters instead of whatever change happens to be bouncing around in their pockets or hiding next to stale french fries under their car seats.

In those days, if, God forbid, you couldn't scrounge up any change at all, you'd have to hand over a wad of cash to park in a paid lot. Pay-By-Phone changed all of that, since all it required was a 4G connection, a Paypal account and a middle finger to throw up at the nearest $8 parking lot sign.

However, the app suffered some problems. Because meters continue to read "expired" when they're paid for electronically, meter readers couldn't distinguish between meters that had been paid for and those that hadn't, resulting in undeserved parking tickets.

The threat of parking tickets was a big knock against an app that's supposed to make parking less of a hassle, and apparently the city agreed.

Earlier this month, a different app, Parkmobile, announced that the city of Dallas would be switching to its service. The change, which applied to all Dallas parking meters, took effect on Sept. 12, and we decided to test it out. 

The new app works just like the old one in terms of its basic functionality. You pull up to a parking meter, input the unique ID number and your license plate number on your phone, and pay for the spot. One difference is that you have a few more payment and input options on the new app.

Paymobile allows you to pay using a Paypal account or a credit card but it also offers payment options through a Masterpass account, which protects your credit card information, and VISA Checkout, which is very convenient if you're in a hurry (and let's face it, if you've been looking for a parking spot downtown, you probably are). The entry code options have also been expanded to cover gated parking. You can either enter the code digit-by-digit or scan a barcode on your gate ticket.

I opted for a parking meter along Elm Street in the same block where a parking enforcer mistakenly slapped me with a $60 ticket almost a year ago after I parked using Pay-By-Phone. Everything linked up on Parkmobile pretty quickly and the basic functions were the same as the old app. A timer indicates how long you legally have in that spot and you're given an option to receive a reminder before the timer runs out.

However, the app still doesn't change the flashing "EXPIRED" sign on the meter, so it's hard to let go of that natural worry about leaving your car for an extended period of time. 

Parkmobile's best feature by far is its map. Finding a place to put your car is a chore in any metropolitan area and the app shows you available meters close to your current location. This essential feature should have made its way into parking apps a long time ago. The "find my car" feature is also nice if you're forgetful.

I left mine in the spot for about three hours, and when I came back, I did not find one of those mocking slips of paper wedged under my windshield wiper. On the app's FAQ page, it says, "local parking enforcement will see your mobile payment on their handheld device." However, you still have to deal with the city's parking enforcement office yourself if you do errantly receive a ticket — and one positive outcome does nothing to prove you won't.

But the company says it takes great care to provide you evidence you've paid for the spot with confirmation messages and an online database of your parking receipts that can be accessed from the app and the web.

Of course, the real test will take place over time. If users continue to receive tickets, it's probably time to abandon the idea of the digital parking meter and just go back to fishing out change in cup holders for a few extra minutes. But until we're shown otherwise, Parkmobile seems to offer a simple and efficient parking solution.