June 16, 2005 — -- After what seems like hours of driving around in circles, you've finally found that one rare, open parking spot on a busy, shop-lined city street. But relief turns to exasperation with one sudden, sinking realization: You have no change to feed the meter.
Rather than run around begging store owners to break your bills for coins, the city of Coral Gables, Fla., offers drivers a much simpler solution: Whip out your cell phone.
This month, the Miami suburb began offering drivers a high-tech payment system called PayMint. Created by Toronto-based Mint Technologies and already in use in several Canadian cities, the cell phone-based technology is simple to use.
Cashless drivers pull into any metered spot in the city and then call a phone number listed on the parking meter. They register personal information -- a credit card number and the car's license plate number -- and enter the meter's number using the phone's keypad.
Computers, equipped with an electronic record of the parking fee schedules associated with that meter, then charge the correct amount -- plus a 25-cent "convenience fee" -- to the driver's credit card.
To pay for more time -- to extend an unexpectedly long shopping trip, for example -- a driver simply calls the PayMint phone number again. The PayMint system uses CallerID to identify the driver and the appropriate spot. When the driver is finally ready to leave, another call ends the billing and generates an electronic receipt that can be sent to the driver's cell phone or to a pre-registered e-mail address.
Stephen Jack, director of marketing at Mint Technology, says the PayMint system -- the first of its kind to be used in the United States -- offers several distinct advantages to drivers.
"People lack change and that's the big thing," says Jack. "They either never have the coins for the meter -- and then have to use a [parking] lot -- or they don't have the right amount." And that often means a frenzied race to make change at a shop or from a friendly passer-by.