Paying for a parking space or a parking ticket in Beckley is easier than ever, thanks to a park-n-pay app that the City of Beckley is rolling out now and in March.
Passport Parking, a mobile pay app, lets drivers pay municipal parking tickets and pay for their parking space using only their cell phones.
"One of the big advantages to using Passport is that it gives the parker the ability to extend their parking session," said Bill Kelly, information technology director for the city. "Right now, if you go into a business uptown or you go to the state building office or wherever you're going uptown, you think, 'I'm going to pay for 15 minutes, or I'm going to pay for 30 minutes.'
"You can't get out of a meeting, and the next thing you know, you have a parking ticket. Or, it's freezing cold or raining or snowing, and you have to run out to feed the meter."
Kelly said that Passport notifies parkers when their time is nearly expired and gives the option of adding time, which is done right from their cell phones. There is no need to leave a dinner or a meeting, when one touch on the cell phone will keep parking officers at bay.
"The system knows your parking zone and will tell you that you can extend up to the maximum time of that time zone, in 15 minute increments," explained Kelly.
Passport won't increase the cost to park in the city, and ticket penalties aren't going to increase.
Instead, Kelly said, there's a 20-cent convenience fee per parking session to use the app and a $3 convenience fee to pay a parking ticket via Passport. The convenience fees go to Passport, which is based in Charlotte, N.C., and the city collects funds from the ticket or parking fee, as usual.
There's no charge to "add time" to a parking session, as long as the parker adds time before the end of the session, and Passport offers a citation management component that will help in ticket collections for the city, Kelly reported.
"The thought came up because of West Virginia University of Technology coming up, that we have some of the young people who don't carry change," Kelly said. "I don't carry change anymore.
"With the Luke Box (card payment box) uptown, some people are intimidated. You get a line formed, people waiting to pay, they're not sure what to do.
"With Passport, you can sit in your car and pay on your phone and take your time and get it done without any worry somebody's going to see you make a mistake."
Kelly said city officials are rolling out Passport in Beckley in two phases. To get officers and municipal employees practiced on Passport, the citations enforcement phase was rolled out this month.
Officers are already carrying Android phones and mobile printers that allow them to issue "digital" tickets that may be paid via Passport. (The program notes repeat offenders, Kelly said.)
"They're getting pretty comfortable with it now," Kelly noted.
Drivers may pay parking tickets with the PassPort Parking app.
In March, parking zones will be posted on stickers and signs in downtown Beckley. At that time, Kelly said, motorists will be able to pay for a parking space from their cell phones.
Most major cities offer park-and-pay apps, and Charleston offers an online payment system.
"Beckley is the first municipality in southern West Virginia to offer a mobile parking app," noted Councilwoman Ann Worley (Ward II), chairwoman of the Parking Commission. "Passport Parking has been excellent to work with in helping us develop a user-friendly, easy way for our citizens and visitors to pay for parking and our enforcement officers to more efficiently carry out their duties."
Kelly said Beckley businesses will also be able to add "free parking" voucher codes. Customers may enter the code in their Passport Parking accounts to get a free space.
What's wrong with an old-fashioned parking meter?
Nothing, according to Kelly. Parking meters in Beckley are staying in place, and motorists are welcome to feed them. The Luke Box at Jim Word Memorial Park is still available, too.
The ticket payment collection boxes are still operational, and motorists are welcome to walk into Beckley Police Department to pay parking fines, he added.
Passport is just a high-tech option, Mayor Rob Rappold noted.
"It gives technology-savvy drivers a convenient way to pay parking meter charges if they choose," he noted. "For those who prefer to place a quarter in the meter, that is still available."
Passport Parking is free to download from Apple Store or Google Play.