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San Francisco Launches NFC Payment for All Its Metered Parking

The PayByPhone system, already in use at 250 of the city's metered spaces, enables drivers with NFC phones to make payments by tapping their handsets against a parking meter.
By Claire Swedberg
Jan 11, 2012The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) is currently in the process of deploying Near Field Communication (NFC)-enabled technology at all 30,000 of its metered street-side parking spaces that allow motorists to pay for parking via mobile phones. Installation began within the city's Castro District on Dec. 14, 2011, and the solution is already operational for 250 meters equipped with the NFC-enabled stickers, according to Paul Rose, SFMTA's media relations manager. With technology provided by PayByPhone, a driver can download and install an application to his NFC-enabled mobile phone, enabling him to pay for parking by tapping the phone against an NFC decal attached to the meter. In so doing, that individual can indicate that he has parked, and approve billing for that space using a credit- or debit-card number provided at the time that the app was downloaded.

Because most mobile phones are not yet NFC-enabled, a driver can bypass the NFC functionality either by dialing a phone number on the decal, thereby launching a payment for the space, or by using an app provided by PayByPhone that stores the individual's credit-card information and requires that he manually enter the parking space's number on his phone. In conjunction with the PayByPhone system, SFMTA offers its own app for Apple iPhone and Android handsets, as well as a similar application accessible via the Web site of SFpark, San Francisco's system for managing the availability of on-street parking. The SFpark app enables a driver to search for a parking space within some parts of the city, determining the number of available spaces within the destination neighborhood (based on parking data stored on the city's software), as well as the cost of parking at that location.


To initiate payment for parking, customers with NFC-capable smartphones can simply tap the RFID tag beneath the NFC logo on the meter.

"Parking in San Francisco is so high-demand that we have been looking for ways to ease that parking process," Rose says, noting that the PayByPhone solution promises to make parking spaces not only easier to find, but also simpler to pay for. The system is intended to improve traffic congestion, Rose explains, citing a study completed in that city that found that 30 percent of traffic congestion resulted from incorrectly parked vehicles (such as those double-parked) and circling by motorists searching for parking spaces. That not only slows driving commuters, he says, but also delays municipal buses and trains.

PayByPhone, a Canadian business based in Vancouver, British Columbia, has been providing parking-payment solutions for a decade, but this is the firm's first solution employing NFC technology. The company expects NFC-enabled phones to proliferate within the next few years, according to Neil Podmore, PayByPhone's VP, thereby making the NFC functionality increasingly popular as time passes. "Our view is that we'll see ever more NFC-enabled phones out there," he states, "so to install the NFC technology now is a smart infrastructure investment from our point of view, and from the city's point of view."

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