Pay-by-phone parking catching on in Latrobe
By Joe Napsha
Published: Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012, 8:52 p.m.
Heather St. John of Latrobe would be the ideal customer for the mobile pay-by-phone parking system in Latrobe.
Although she uses her cell phone and attends St. Vincent College in Unity, “I don't use the pay-by-phone system, but my roommate does.”
The challenge for Pango Shynny USA LLC of Baltimore, the Israel-based company that has established Latrobe's mobile pay-by-phone parking system, is to convince St. John and a lot of other motorists who park downtown and do not buy parking passes to switch from plugging meters with coins to paying via the cellphone system.
“October was the best month yet for Pango in Latrobe, with a 50 percent increase compared to September, and we see an upward trend of our Pango pay-by-phone system,” said Dani Shavit, CEO of Pango Shynny.
“There's been a continuous increase ... and we've got a good feeback from customers,” Shavit said.
The company does not reveal its revenue figures for competitive purposes, but Shavit said he is pleased with the initial six months, during which 500 subscribers used the system.
While Pango has operated since 2005 in dozens of cities in Israel and Europe, Latrobe is the first city in the United States to use it. Shavit said it has been the company's experience that in the first six months, it usually captures the “early adopters, people not afraid to use the technology.”
Another downtown Latrobe resident who said she might be willing to try it with her mobile phone was Rachel David, 27. But, she said, she was not familiar with the system.
The city is allowing Pango to place stickers on all the parking meters to inform motorists how to register for the pay-by-phone system. Once registered, users can call Pango when they park at a metered space and initiate the parking fee. Whenever they leave, they call Pango to cease the charge. A parking meter enforcement person can call Pango to see whether the motorist registered for the parking space.
As Pango goes into a second phase of marketing its service, it believes that word of mouth from customers will help increase use, Shavit said.
“We're moving from educating the customers about the value of the pay-by-phone system to focusing on the benefits,” including never needing to have coins for the meters and never getting a parking ticket, Shavit said.
One of those customers not certain of how the system works is JoEllen Bruno of Latrobe, who said she might consider it.
“I thought it was a good idea, but I was not certain how to use it,” Bruno said.
Latrobe Manager Alex Graziani said that some people still are confused about the system, which gives motorists another option for paying for parking.
While there is competition in the mobile pay-by-phone parking system, “right now, we're betting on Pango,” Graziani said.
Pango launched its new mobile pay-by-phone parking system in June after signing a two-year contract with Latrobe. The contract gives Pango 17 percent of all revenue it generates from the metered parking spaces.
Pango's business has been affected by factors beyond its control. The city's downtown parking garage between Spring and Weldon streets had been closed for extensive renovations when it instituted the system.
When the city opened the garage in October, Latrobe permitted motorists to use the garage's 270 spaces free of charge for the month as a way of thanking them for dealing with the inconvenience of the garage being closed since July 2010,
In addition, Latrobe's parking meter enforcement is spotty. The city meter enforcement is usually only 20 hours a week.
The city's recent decision to raise the parking meter fine to $5 from $3 should be an incentive to pay for the parking, Shavit said. Some city officials had wanted to boost the fine to $10 to increase the likelihood that motorists would not risk getting a ticket, but council lowered the fine to $5 for the first day.
One of the advantages of using the pay-by-phone system is that Pango, as well as Latrobe, have data that tells both the city and the company when and where people are parking.
Based on the registration of its customers, Shavit said that almost one-half of those who signed up to use the system are from outside Latrobe.
“This is a very good challenge for us,” Shavit said.
Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-5252 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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