Pay-by-cell parking comes to Silver Spring

Silver Spring parkers can stop hoarding quarters to feed the meter.
The county's pay-by-cell parking program has been expanded to include 4,500 county parking meters in Silver Spring. The program will be expanded to Wheaton and Montgomery Hills by the summer.
Pay-by-cell allows parkers to use their cell phones to add time to their parking meter. Users have to set up an online payment account first, and there is a 35-cent convenience fee on top of the cost of parking.

County officials said they decided to expand the program after a successful pilot in Bethesda that drew only a handful of complaints. They say the new payment option allows residents who hate carting bags of change to pay with a phone call or text. And the new system has an added bonus, they say: Parkers get a text message warning when their meter is about to expire, allowing them to add time to their meter from a distance.

"Prior to the pilot project in Bethesda, a very common and recurring feedback from people were the coins the amount of coins people had to carry around," said Stephen Nash, chief of the division of parking management. "The county executive had paid attention to this, and the council had always expressed an interest in what we can do about this."

Enter MobileNow!, the county's contractor for the pay-by-cell program. The program doesn't cost Montgomery County any money beyond the cost of the decals added on each meter advertising the option.

And despite the 35-cent convenience fee, Nash said some people may consider the insurance against parking tickets worth the price. Parkers can overpay their meter and get that money back if they return before their time expires.

"If you're worried about a $45 parking ticket, pay for four hours, and then even if you come back in a half hour, you'll get that money back. It's insurance that you won't get a ticket. ... It opens up all these options so suddenly you're in control."

There are several other payment options at metered garages around the county as well, Nash said. Parkers can still pay with change, they can get a monthly parking pass, or they can purchase a CashKey at the county's parking office in the garage located at the intersection of Fenton Street and Ellsworth Drive. CashKeys are electric devices that can carry up to $200 and are inserted into a parking district meter to pay for a parking session.

County spokeswoman Esther Bowring calls the new system "the greatest thing since sliced bread," and said it's a win-win for the county, which can't afford pricey parking upgrades, and residents who want more options for parking payment.

But people looking to use the new system should check their meter to ensure it's pay-by-cell ready. Certain meters, such as those in the basement of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration garage, can't use the system because there is no cell phone reception. The system is also not available at pay-on-foot garages, such as the Wayne Avenue garage in downtown Silver Spring.
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