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New Smartphone Apps Locate and Pay for Parking in Pilot on Arthur Avenue

By Patrick Wall | April 9, 2013 5:53pm

BELMONT — Tech-savvy visitors to Arthur Avenue no longer need to circle the crowded corridor hunting a place to park — an app will guide them to open spaces.

And once they leave their cars, no need to interrupt the table talk in their favorite trattoria to feed their meters — they can refill with a swipe of their smartphones.

“New York City parking has come a long way since we had to put a roll of quarters in our pocket just to pay for parking at the curb,” said Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan.

Sadik-Khan demonstrated the new service for Mayor Michael Bloomberg Tuesday when she used her phone to scan a special symbol affixed to a Muni-Meter outside Mario’s Restaurant on Arthur Avenue.

For registered users, scanning the symbols will allow them to pay to park in one of more than 260 spaces along 18 block faces of Arthur Avenue and 187th Street without the use of cash or a credit card.

Later, if they need more parking time, users can feed their meters remotely.

Drivers without smartphones will also be able to refill from a distance by calling a toll-free line or going to a website and entering the number of the Muni-Meter.

Police Department traffic agents in the pilot zone will start to scan cars’ license plates before they issue tickets to make sure drivers didn’t already pay with the app.

The free service, powered by mobile payment company PayByPhone, will also send texts or emails to drivers warning them when their time is about to expire.

“It really is everything that you can think of to make your life better,” Bloomberg said at Tuesday’s conference.

A separate yearlong pilot program, also based in the Belmont Business Improvement District area, provides drivers with a real-time map of available parking spots.

The service will use data from street-embedded sensors to determine which blocks have empty spots.

Then the live map will color-code those streets green, yellow or red, suggesting to users where they are most likely to find a free space. Not surprisingly, much of Arthur Avenue was colored red Tuesday afternoon, meaning few open spots.

The map, which is already live on the DOT website and will launch on a smartphone app later this spring, is meant to save drivers time and headaches while cutting down on congestion and pollution.

Asked whether the map app could distract drivers, Bloomberg said they should pull over before using it and that there were, really, many places where they should avoid the app.

“In the shower, for example,” he said.

The city selected The Bronx’s Little Italy to test the programs because the area’s popularity means that many would-be visitors can’t find a place to park — and those that do often leave with tickets.

More than 85 percent of the Belmont BID’s shoppers travel five miles or more to get there, almost always by car, said BID Chairman Frank Franz.

Making matters worse, dozens of neighborhood parking lots were sold to housing developers over the years, creating a serious parking shortage, Franz added.

“Parking and congestion in this community is a decades-old problem,” he said.

Visitors to Arthur Avenue mostly embraced the new parking apps Tuesday.

“It’s a great idea,” said Westchester resident Maria Derasmo, 65, who looked forward to replenishing her meter from the comfort of a pizzeria booth.

“Sometimes you go for pizza, you start talking, and you don't realize the time has run out,” she said.

Mike Hughes, a Queens plumber currently doing work on Arthur Avenue, said he’d already caught several tickets for expired meters.

The meter-paying app makes so much sense, said Hughes, 56, he would consider buying a smartphone just to use it.

“It’s time for me to stop being a dinosaur,” he said, “and get with the times.”