The Shopper’s Lot is among two of downtown Juneau’s three per-hour parking lots where the cash payments boxes are missing due to vandalism this winter. But as of Wednesday people can use the free ParkSmarter app to make payments by phone. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Pay-by-phone parking for downtown Juneau debuts with few reported complaints

App for hourly lots part of series of technology upgrades coming to city’s parking facilities.

A new pay-by-phone system for hourly parking lots in downtown Juneau was launched Wednesday with few reports of confusion or trouble from residents, according to Parks and Recreation Director George Schaaf.

“Maybe a handful is what we’re hearing,” he said late Wednesday afternoon. “We’re not tracking by numbers. But it’s been very quiet.”

Signs with bar codes allowing people to access the free ParkSmarter app to make payments were posted for the program’s debut at the Marine Parking Garage, Shopper’s Lot and North Franklin Lot, Schaaf said. Parking fees remain the same at $0.75 per hour, as do the enforcement hours of 8 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays, with the app being the first in a series of planned parking system upgrades such as digital pay stations at lots and the ability to buy monthly passes online.

A new sign at the Marine Park Garage allows people to scan a bar code with their phones to access an app allowing them to make per-hour payments electronically. (Laurie Craig / For the Juneau Empire)

Payments have only been collected at the North Franklin lot recently because it is the only location that still has a traditional coinbox, Schaaf said.

“The coinbox at the Shopper’s Lot was destroyed over the winter so we had to remove it,” he said. “And that’s part of the reason we are rolled out this pay-by-phone app a little bit sooner than the rest of the system, because we’ve been getting a lot of questions from folks about how to pay at that lot. So we wanted to give them an option to do that. Similarly, the paybox over Marine Parking Garage also was destroyed.”

Schaaf said the payboxes cost several thousand dollars, so purchasing them for a couple months’ use before switching to the app didn’t make sense. He said they were previously vandalized a couple of times during his six years working for the city, but “last winter was the first time I’ve seen two destroyed in one season.”

However, the decision to implement the app and other parking system updates wasn’t because of the recent vandalisms, he said.

In addition to making initial parking payments, the app will allow people to purchase additional time and obtain receipts, according to a city bulletin. It is also scheduled to be available for CBJ Docks and Harbors facilities in May.

The new pay stations, which will be installed at harbor facilities as well as the downtown parking lots, will be able to accept credit/debit cards as well as cash, according to the city. Expanded online options will also allow paying fines and appealing of citations.

The iOS version of ParkSmarter has an average rating of 4.6 out of five stars by 11,700 reviewers in Apple’s App Store, but the Android version has a rating of 2.4 from about 1,300 reviewers — and more than half of those are one-star ratings. Complaints from negative reviewers included a complicated user interface and registration process, payments not registering and thus resulting in tickets, and crashes due to apparent glitches.

Schaaf said the initial request to companies to provide an app was sent by the city last April. He said three companies responded, but “all of them would have cost more than the entire gross revenue of the parking program downtown.”

“They also weren’t really responsive to what we were looking for,” he said. “We were looking for a system that didn’t rely as much on enforcement and basically made it as easy as possible for people to follow the rules.”

City officials, after canceling its bidding process, then reached out to additional companies involved in issuing virtual permits using license plates, Schaaf said. That led to contacts with other municipalities about their systems, resulting in the selection of IPS Group Inc. that provides the ParkSmarter app.

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com or (907) 957-2306.

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