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New service allows people to feed KU parking meters from their smartphones, no coins needed

FRIDAY UPDATE

I've got an update from the KU parking folks: This smartphone meter system is up and running now. So you can go ahead park to your heart's content, coin-free.

ORIGINAL POST

If you find yourself parking on the KU campus during the day from time to time, but not so often that you want to buy a parking permit, that may mean you're often digging around for coins to feed one of the 277 parking meters on campus.

But by the time the fall semester starts next month, you'll no longer have to do that, if you don't want to. You can save your coins for flipping, scratching off lottery tickets or pretending to find behind children's ears.

That's because of these green stickers that perhaps you've seen stuck to the front of campus parking meters this summer, which a tipster asked about:

From in front of the KU student recreation center.

From in front of the KU student recreation center. by Matt Erickson

The stickers mean that you can use a service to pay for the meters electronically, using a credit card, from your phone. The service, called Parkmobile, has a smartphone app you can use to pay, or you can use the actual phone part of your cellphone to pay, using the phone number listed there.

To do that, you have to register an account with the company, giving it your license plate number and a credit card on file. Then, enter the number on the sticker, or scan the QR code shown, to let it know where you're parking.

"We were looking for a way to make it easier for people to buy some time," said Donna Hultine, director of KU Parking and Transit. She said the service is not active yet at KU, but it will be by the time the fall semester begins, on Aug. 26. The stickers are coming to all of the campus's long-term parking meters, the biggest concentration of which is near the Ambler Student Recreation Fitness Center and the Watkins Memorial Health Center.

As visitor parking rates on the campus have risen over time, parking meters have experienced less use, Hultine said.

In August 2012, the hourly rate — for long-term parking meters or the garages near Allen Fieldhouse and the Kansas Union — rose to $1.50. (Starting Aug. 1, the rate in the garages will rise to $1.75 for the first hour and $1.50 per hour afterward.)

That money goes to fund staffing and maintenance for Parking and Transit, such as the resurfacing of the lot across from KU's engineering buildings this summer. (That lot, by the way, will now have permeable pavement that will allow water runoff to go into underground retention areas, helping to create a rain garden on one end.)

"We've got a lot of crumbling asphalt across campus," Hultine said.

But Hultine hopes the new electronic system will encourage more people to use the meters, even if they don't have six quarters jingling around in their pockets.

The service will also notify you when your meter's about to expire with a text message providing a 15-minute warning, Hultine said. You can extend the meter from your phone, wherever you are.

You will, though, have to pay a 35-cent fee for each transaction. That's the Parkmobile company's cut of the deal; the actual parking fare will still go to KU. And people can still feed the meters with coins if they like.

"I just really hope that it helps people to avoid getting tickets," Hultine said.

Parking and Transit will also use the technology to open an entire new lot, the one just east of Memorial Stadium, to visitors (lot No. 94 on this map). Right now that lot is available only with a campus permit during the day, but starting in August visitors will be able to use the Parkmobile service to park there using a virtual meter. KU won't even have to install any physical meters, which Hultine said cost about $600 a pop.

Hultine said KU might do that with more permit-only lots in the future, too.

KU will be the first place to use the service in the state of Kansas, said Tina Dyer, a Parkmobile spokeswoman. You can also use the service in some privately owned lots in Kansas City, Mo.

The company started in Europe in 1999 as a call-in service, and it opened its U.S. operation in 2008, based in Atlanta. It's expanded rapidly in the past two years, Dyer said, spreading to a lot of college campuses.

"It's perfect in a university setting," Dyer said, "especially because most of the kids have smartphones."

Amazing what you can do from your phone these days. You can also use it to send a KU news tip to merickson@ljworld.com — and there's no fee, if you send it today! (Or at any later time.)

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