Imagine sitting in a City Hall meeting knowing the two-hour maximum on your parking meter is about to expire soon.
Currently, one option is to leave the meeting, move the car to a different parking spot and then start the meter-paying process all over again.
The other option is to stay in the meeting and hope a meter reader doesn’t ticket your car.
But beginning next month, city lawmakers hope to offer a third solution: pay by cellphone, without ever leaving your meeting.
As soon as mid-May, smartphones could be another option for parking payment at all of the city’s 3,900 on-street paid parking spots.
One benefit will be the ability to purchase one additional hour of meter time without going back out to the automobile, said Kevin J. Helfer, the city’s parking commissioner.
"If someone parks for two hours, they get a text at 1:45 saying, ‘Would you like additional time?’ " Helfer said, explaining how the new app will work.
On Tuesday, the Common Council sent a resolution to the Legislation Committee for review that would allow paying for the additional hour of meter time via smartphones. Users would download a free parking application on their phone, connect it to a credit card, and pay the meter fee – all before leaving their car.
The process would work the same when a motorist is on a street parking spot covered by a Pay and Display machine. There would be no need to purchase those tiny tickets to place on the windshield showing how much time was bought; just follow the prompts from the app. No need to even stop by the Pay and Display machine.
"It’s a good feature, very customer friendly," Helfer said.
All the new convenience will come with a 10-cent credit card surcharge per transaction that will be paid to the company that provides the smartphone meter app.
"It’s a convenience fee," Helfer said. "The fee is very reasonable ... The merchant gets the 10-cent fee. The city gets its parking money 100 percent."
Meter readers will still patrol the streets to see if cars are paid up when the system is in place. But in addition to checking the meter for an "expired" reading or looking for a ticket on a windshield, the meter readers will place their hand-held scanners against registration stickers to see if the motorists are paid up for their parking.
The city, which took in about $1.8 million in 2015 from parking meters and machines before expenses, could lose revenue from parking tickets with the new pay-by-cell option, Helfer acknowledged. But there is an upside.
"Our focus is compliance. We’re not out there just to issue tickets. We’re trying to get compliance. What we lose in ticket revenue, we’ll get more revenue on the parking meter side by having this available," he said.
The app will be tailored to Buffalo.
"It could be Park Buffalo. It could be anything, but it’s going to be unique to us," Helfer said.
Signs on city blocks will provide information on how to download the app.
"On every block there will be signs. Once you see that sign, you’ll know to pull out your phone and download the app, which takes about a minute," Helfer said. "All you have to put in is your credit card and license plate. That’s it. No more information."
In addition, the city can help design the app, but if users do not want to download the app, they can follow the same process through the website. But it’s probably better to download the app because there will be information and notifications on it that Buffalo will help build, he said.
"This isn’t just going to be a simple app people are using for parking. There is going be a lot of information that we are allowed to push," Helfer said. For instance, app users could get notifications about the Common Council waiving parking fees during Christmas or snow emergencies, as well as big events.
"The NCAA tournament was in town. We know where our parking is. So at 5 at night, we could have pushed to everybody who was on this app, ‘Hey when you want to come downtown tonight and park, you’re going get into a lot of congestion; but we have spaces available at the Buffalo Civic Auto Ramps for X amount of dollars and you can take the free rapid transit,’ " Helfer said.
"So we’re going to be able to pass information along," he added.
In the future, officials will be able to build onto the app to allow certain functions such as being able to pay parking tickets. Merchants would be able to use it as well to pick up the cost of parking for their customers, he said.
"It’s the newest thing. It’s phenomenal," said Niagara Council Member David A. Rivera. "You can do so much. It’s unbelievable."