ParkMagic Chicago In-Car Meter Program Ends

Innovative Pay-By-Cell Phone Option Quietly Dies

ParkMagic's in-car parking meter

Just over four years after Chicago’s Department of Revenue announced its ground breaking pay-by-phone,  in-car parking meter program to great fanfare, glowing reviews and overwhelming positive user response, the plug was finally pulled on the ParkMagic Chicago pilot program just over two weeks ago.

An e-mail from ParkMagic to its remaining users from the pilot program went out July 8th saying in part, “As you know the ParkMagic Pay by Cell parking system has been in pilot phase with the City of Chicago over the past two years and this phase is now complete.”

It was back in June of 2007, when the DOR debuted the blue and silver in-car meters in a pilot program limited to 1000 initial users. The first units were snapped up in less than a week, and after the first year the program was considered a success by an independent research study showing  a 97.6% positive feedback from the initial 1000 users.

ParkMagic was essentially the parking meter equivalent of the Tollway’s I-Pass unit.

Instead of having to plunk quarters or swipe a debit/credit card into a parking  meter, drivers could use their cell phone to add time to their ParkMagic in-car meter. Worried you’re metered  time is running out because you’re doctor’s appointment is taking too long? Want to enjoy an after dinner drink without having to run back to your car? Dialup your ParkMagic unit and add some more time.

But a funny thing happened on the way to rolling out the program citywide and making it available to all drivers–Chicago’s infamous parking meter lease deal got in the way.

In retrospect, the writing was on the wall as early as August of 2008, when ParkMagic was scheduled to release 2000 more in-car meters to the public. Mayor Daley’s office was pushing through the bidding process for the meter lease deal, and after a news report at this website on the new units, the Department of Revenue reneged on the release of new units according to city sources with intimate knowledge of the deal.

When the city awarded Chicago’s  parking meter concession  in December, 2008,  ParkMagic had a new point of contact– Chicago Parking Meters, LLC.  Since then, according to sources, high level managers of LAZ Parking (which manages CPM’s street operations) Chicago Parking Meters and ParkMagic had numerous meetings on potentially expanding the pay-by-phone program.

The program languished for two and a half years with no decision to roll out the program citywide or just kill it.  Finally, after years of  discussions, and  despite the great response to the state of the art program, despite the thousands of drivers on the waiting list for their own unit and despite a tech savvy society hungry to  embrace this type of convenient cell phone based technology, the program was finally taken off life support.

“Chicago Parking Meters and Park Magic’s pilot program for payment of curbside parking in Chicago has expired,” says CPM spokesperson Avis LaVelle via email. “Chicago Parking Meters (CPM) would like to thank Park Magic and the pilot program participants for their cooperation as we research ways to better serve the parking public.”

ParkMagic users with a cash balance are being issued refunds according to LaVelle.

At least one Chicago driver is sad to see the end of ParkMagic’s service.

“Absolutely!” said Sabrina Deitch when asked if she was going to miss using ParkMagic. “I didn’t have to hunt down a machine to pay.”

Deitch, who’s lived in the city for 20 years and used her unit as the primary method for paying metered parking, really enjoyed the convenience of the service.

“If I was waiting in line and my time was ending, I could easily pay without having to leave the place I was at to do so,” explained Deitch. “If my movie ran long, if dinner took longer than I thought, if the store lines were long- anything- when I was with kids I wouldn’t have to worry about them when I went to pay the machine.”

While the future of ParkMagic in Chicago seems uncertain at best, but both ParkMagic and CPM are implying  the door is still open to re-starting the program in the future.

“Chicago Parking Meters continues to assess the merits of the Park Magic system as well as other cashless payment options to provide the most convenient and reliable system for Chicago,” says LaVelle.

“We are working to an agreed project schedule and in order to implement the full sale city wide roll out of the ParkMagic system it has been decided to defer the service availability while Chicago Parking Meters finalize the expansion plan with the City of Chicago Parking Authority,” the email from ParkMagic claims. “The details of the official launch date will be issued to you in due course. However should you have any questions/queries regarding the service etc. you may contact our customer service center.”

But emails to, and voice mails left with ParkMagic were not returned and select phone numbers for ParkMagic’s corporate office have been disconnected, are now assigned to other businesses or go directly to voice mail.

It is also possible that CPM will end up adopting a completely different pay-by-phone service. According to industry sources, CPM is said to be considering alternative pay-by-phone services.

While Chicago, the nation’s third largest parking meter system, has seemingly abandoned pay-by-phone parking meter technology, nationwide many large American cities are rapidly moving to embrace this mobile technology. Washington D.C. just announced its adopting the ParkMobile service, a company which also provides Atlanta with their service. Miami has had Verrus’ service for a few years, while San Francisco and Portland are testing the technology.

Calls and emails to Chicago’s Department of Revenue seeking comment were not returned.

7 Responses to ParkMagic Chicago In-Car Meter Program Ends

  1. DoR Employee says:

    It really boils down to a simple reason…

    CPM didn’t want to share revenue on a Fee Based service provider.

  2. BXK says:

    I think that’s too benovelent….

    CPM and the City of Chicago stand to make more money the “old” way.

    If you are in line and can’t make it out, or you can’t get out of your dinner, BAM-O!, parking ticket. Big money for the city.

    If you have a ticket that expires at 2:30pm, and with the ParkMagic you can refill it at 2:29pm, there is 1 minute of essentially double-paid parking. Without ParkMagic, you will be forced to likely come out well before 2:29pm to re-stock your meter. Maybe you come out at 2:15, maybe 2:00pm (your meeting starts at 2:15pm?). That’s 15-30 minutes of double paid parking. CPM wins.

    See, it is always easy to figure out. In which scenario does either the City of Chicago and/or CPM make the most money, and that is how it is determined. It isn’t due to anything else. Don’t even pretend. The only reason they don’t make us pay 24 hours on every street in the city is because at that point, we’d probably actually all complain enough to put an end to it. Extended hours from 6pm to 9pm, 9am to 8am, and paying on Sundays? Just enough of a squeeze where we will accept it.

  3. Pete says:

    Yep. That $100 ticket is much more revenue than the extra $2 that somebody could add to the meter.

  4. Drew says:

    You mean 50 Pete.

    100.00 ticket is a Hydrant or Bus Stop.

  5. Sean says:

    @BXK
    You said it all. I am happy and glad to know people see it.
    Double paid parking is an absurd. I can’t believe nothing was ever done about it. This is the same of stealing.
    So many, but sooooooo many times I paid for 1 hour, just to find out that I will need an extra hour. There is no way to add time, so I ended up paying for 3 hours.
    What about when we pay for 2 hours and we leave in 30 minutes? Someone else take our spot and they pay again for a time that was already paid before.
    Easy easy money. And, what do they do for the customers??? Nothing. You are just parked on the streets. When we get a snow storm, they don’t clean it right away (they don’t have money to do it).
    These meters are everywhere. Even on the most abandoned streets. Why?

  6. Rinzler says:

    Simple, when a meter spot is removed, it has to be replaced in a different spot, otherwise the ward has to pay money for the lost income. Got to hand it to the aldercreatures, they know people won’t put up with meters everywhere, so they are sticking them in spots that no one uses. I can’t believe cpm hasn’t been raising hell.

  7. Bob Foster says:

    The answer is simple; follow the money. The Parkmagic system was brought to you buy the same inept group of bureaucrats that installed a million dollars worth of parking meters out in the middle of nowhere.

    http://www.gazettechicago.com/index/2011/06/vacant-parking-meters-on-empty-streets-add-up-to-a-lot-of-nothing/

    Had the Parkmagic business model been merely good or even mediocre, I’m sure that CPM/LAZ would have been all over it, especially back during the height of the transition fiasco.

    If the City gave away the meters at bargain basement prices to CPM/LAZ as everyone claims, how much of a boondoggle was the Parkmagic program? How bad a deal was it when the business savvy sharks at CPM/LAZ turned their nose and swam away from it? As I said, it all comes down to money.

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