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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
The PayByPhone sticker, provided by Fremont, Calif., company Cellotape Inc., has a 13.56 MHz NFC-compliant passive RFID tag from UPM RFID, inserted and encoded in the sticker by Cellotape. An eight-digit ID number is listed on the sticker, as well as instructions to either call SFMTA's phone number (in order to manually input that ID and provide credit-card details) or download and use the PayByPhone mobile app to input the number (by tapping an NFC-enabled phone against the sticker).

All of the city's meters accept coin payments, but if a driver prefers to utilize the NFC technology, he would first need to download the app and input a credit- or debit-card number, to be linked to his own phone's NFC ID number. Upon tapping the phone against the sticker, the driver would see instructions on his phone, prompting him to input how long he planned to park in that spot—one hour, for example—after which the PayByPhone software would display the cost of that transaction, which that person would then be required to approve before the transaction could be completed. Five minutes before the meter was due to expire, that individual's phone would receive a text message reminding him that he must either retrieve his car or pay for additional time (assuming the city's parking regulations allowed the latter option). PayByPhone is providing the service at no cost to San Francisco. Rather, the company charges each user a 45-cent service fee per transaction, to cover all costs.

City workers patrolling the streets looking for parking violations will continue to use their existing handheld PDAs, which enable them to print tickets. With the PayByPhone system in place, an employee can simply input a particular meter's eight-digit number, which would then be transmitted to the PayByPhone server via a Wi-Fi or cellular connection. Server software would then provide a list of all spots on that side of the street, for that specific block, that have been paid for. Those unpaid would thus be in violation. Since the first NFC stickers were installed on Dec. 14, Rose says, there have been approximately 500 NFC transactions—though he expects that number to grow as additional NFC-enabled phones are adopted.

To date, Podmore says, about 93 municipalities are using PayByPhone parking-payment solutions, including the Westminster section of London. However, he notes, San Francisco is the first to include the NFC functionality. The second NFC-enabled PayByPhone solution is scheduled to go live in February 2012, he adds, with 650 stickers, in the city of Ottawa, Ontario. In this case, Ottawa will attach the stickers to its existing payment machines, each supporting up to 10 parking spots in which a motorist will be able to enter his license plate number, which would then be linked to that person's payment information stored on the PayByPhone system. If the driver opts for the NFC function, however, the mobile phone could read the NFC sticker and forward that sticker's ID, along with its own, to the back-end server, where the user's license plate number and payment data would be linked to that information, thereby making the process faster and more efficient. PayByPhone expects to equip its existing customers with NFC technology during the coming years as well.

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