With no public fanfare, Salt Lake City has just taken a big step into a possible cash-free world.
When drivers pay for parking downtown, they no longer need coins or even a credit card in their pocket. A smart phone will do, or even a dumb one.
"What the public will notice is a very streamlined way to pay for parking," said Robin Hutcheson, Salt Lake City's transportation director.
City officials haven't even announced the system yet because they're still testing it. But technologically savvy drivers have already started downloading and using a phone app called "Quick Pay."
The app is a new way to pay for on-street parking at spaces in downtown Salt Lake City that formerly had parking meters. Salt Lake City pays a portion of each parking fee to owners of Quick Pay, but there is no additional cost to drivers.
"You are not paying any more to pay by phone," Hutcheson said.
The city is using feedback from early users to troubleshoot and refine the system.Hutcheson said the testing is "going quite well" and she expects a roll-out of the new system in about a week.
The Quick Pay app is provided by a San Francisco company free of charge to anyone who wants to download it to a phone. Versions are available for iPhone as well as Android phones.
"If you don't have a smart phone," Hutcheson said, "there's a text application that will work that will allow you to pay by (other phones) as well."
When a driver uses the Quick Pay app for the first time, it requires the entry of a credit card number and the driver's license plate number. Quick Pay remembers that data so it doesn't have to be re-entered.
When the driver parks his car, he activates the Quick Pay app and points the phone at a barcode symbol near each parking place. In a second or two, Quick Pay recognizes the barcode and asks the driver how long he wants to park. The program then charges the correct amount to the driver's previously entered credit card.
During the time the car is parked, the driver can check his phone at any moment to see how much parking time is left. When just five minutes remain, Quick Pay sends an email message to warn the driver. Once time has expired, the app sends the driver a credit card receipt via email.
Quick Pay is one of a number of new apps moving consumers away from cash and plastic credit cards and into the realm of digital money.
Some retailers in Utah already take payments via phone. Blue Star Juice and Coffee Shops, for example, uses an app called Square. In a second, or two, Square charges the transaction to the customer's credit card.
Whether a customer is paying for coffee or parking time, ultimately, trust is required because personal credit card information has to remain on file somewhere in cyberspace.
"You should not worry," Hutcheson said. "This is a very secure transaction, the same way you would use your card on any other internet transaction."
City officials said the credit card information collected by Quick Pay is not used to collect fines for overtime parking or for unpaid parking fees. "There is no automatic citation," said city spokesman Art Raymond. "It still requires an enforcement officer to find the violation."
Enforcement officers driving by use a hand-held device that electronically monitors parking payments for each space. They issue tickets when they detect a violation. Quick Pay is used only for parking fees, not for fines, according to Raymond.
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