Wildwood tests meter-feeding by phone

Wawa manager Lynn Kallas is tired of exchanging customers' dollars for quarters to feed their parking meters.
"Everyone and their brother comes in here asking for quarters to fill their meters. I need my quarters, too," said Kallas, 57. "They do this to all the local businesses."

Thanks to Wildwood's new call-to-pay method, the popular request may be a thing of the past.

On July 1, Wildwood initiated a new meter option through a partnership with iControl Mobile Payment Solutions' Cell Parking Service. Instead of feeding meters, drivers pay by calling the number on the meter's red sticker.

In other words, beachgoers no longer have to tread the mile back to their cars to buy more sun time. Nor do drivers have to dig between seat cushions, or beg store owners for coins.

Kallas now deters beachgoers from asking for change with a photo slipped underneath a clear mat on the cashier's counter. In the photo, a young woman stands curbside and points to a parking meter with a red sticker on it.

Cell Parking is currently in use in several Canadian cities, as well as Petoskey, Mich., and West Palm Beach, Fla. Wildwood Mayor Gary DeMarzo first saw the technology while vacationing in West Palm and contacted the company, based in Rockville, Md.

The system is simple, said Katie Ferrara, Wildwood's project manager. A driver calls the sticker number to initiate parking privileges and calls back to end them. That's it. The cost is a minimum of $1 for an hour to a maximum $8 for eight hours. Using quarters, which remains an option, the minimum time is 15 minutes.

First-time users have to set up an account online by providing credit-card information as explained on the sticker, Ferrara said. After that, parking is convenient and hassle-free.

Drivers who fail to cancel a parking stint risk paying the maximum $8, she said. On the flip side, they can park for hours on end without worrying about tickets.

Another incentive to give it a try, Ferrara said, is that during the two-week trial phase, which lasts until Friday, the cost for first timers is on the city. Drivers must still call the number, but they will be notified that the city has picked up the tab.

"It's user-friendly, even for people who aren't technology savvy," Ferrara said. "It's like the E-ZPass of parking."

To monitor meter compliance, parking-enforcement officers have a special cell-phone device purchased by the city.

Wildwood has about 1,200 meters, Ferrara said. However, the city is adding more to rev up revenue (stickers included). About 950 meters have the new phone method.

On July 1, its opening day, 45 drivers used the system. On July 3, Saturday of the holiday weekend, 232 people called to park.

Ferrara said she had heard mostly positive reactions to the new meters, and to the new-age payment method, including one from a local motel owner who said he was tired of guests bringing multiple cars and stationing them all weekend on the perimeter of his place, where meters were just added.

Other New Jersey towns, including Haddonfield and Wildwood Crest, have called Wildwood to inquire about the system.

Amie Devero, executive vice president of iControl, said she anticipated branching out.

"We would like our customers to be able to travel to Philadelphia or any beach town and use their account," Devero said. "It's so inconvenient to fish for quarters."

However, some Wildwood store owners and seasonal renters are not happy about having to pay for a spot that once was free.

Ann Healey, 70, who spends April to October in her Wildwood condo, complained about the city's decision to add meters near homes. She called the call-to-pay method a corrupt incentive to get more money.

"It's ridiculous. I don't like it at all," Healey said. "You're telling me I have to pay $8 a night to park on my street?"

She said she planned to attend the next town meeting to argue against the installations.

"It's not fair," she said. "Next they are going to charge us to breathe the air."

Condo owner Peg Brennan of Roxborough agreed with Healey about residential meters and also said she felt for store owners who may lose customers because drivers will occupy meter spots for eight hours at a time.

Jackie Mikuski, co-owner of Key West Cafe at Atlantic and Andrews Streets, said the call-to-pay meters would both hurt and help.

"True, the spots won't turn as often, but it's convenient," she said. "Just make sure you remember to call and end it."

Mikuski said she often helped out her diners by giving them quarters to park. On July 7, she helped a diner in a new way.

"I just helped a man from Russia figure out how to use the call-to-pay option," she said. "As long as they don't charge us to go on the beach, then no complaints here."
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