With parking revenue on the rebound from a low tide caused by covid-19, the city of Little Rock is steadily urging drivers to use a smartphone app to pay for parking as opposed to the traditional coin-in-meter method.
Officials with the city believe that by paying with the app, visitors are helping provide the most efficient movement of daily traffic downtown.
The app -- ParkMobile LLC -- was first introduced and praised by the city due to its "contactless" payment option during the pandemic.
"We're committed to supporting the efficient and safe movement of daily traffic in our city, and ParkMobile enhances that mission by providing customers with contactless payments," Little Rock Public Works Director Jon Honeywell told ParkMobile in 2020. "Residents and visitors can now more easily travel downtown, whether for work or to explore Little Rock's landmarks and attractions."
A contract with the parking company was approved by the city board in September 2019.
Services provided by the app were then available to drivers in the spring of 2020.
When parking with the app, users are met with a home screen that reads: "Congrats on discovering a smarter way to park."
The app -- which costs the city nothing -- allows drivers to reserve, pay and reset their parking time from their phones without needing to return to the meter.
Drivers using the app can expect to pay 85 cents an hour in most areas downtown. This includes the 50-cent flat rate and a 35-cent transaction fee charged by ParkMobile. The current-day 35-cent transaction fee is up five cents from the app's original fee of 30 cents.
Other more populated areas near the River Market or near the Old Statehouse Museum cost drivers $1.25 before the 35-cent transaction fee.
The base cost of parking on the meters or through the app has not increased since 2019, according to Parking Enforcement Coordinator Marvin Benton.
Benton also said that the increased use of the smartphone app has not resulted in a change in staff or parking techs.
"We will always have parking techs to check the meters and the license plates to see if drivers paid for parking at the meter or with the ParkMobile app," Benton said. "They have the option to use either one at any location downtown that has meters or kiosk in the river market."
According to Benton, parking techs monitor meters paid through the app the same way they monitor the traditional meters, adding that parking techs are still essential in collecting the coins.
"We must have someone to collect the money from the meters," Benton said. "It's the same person that services the meters and the kiosk in the River Market."
He said the techs must run the vehicle's license plate before they can determine if the user paid with coins or through ParkMobile.
ParkMobile allows drivers to pay with debit/credit cards and Apple Pay.
Benton did highlight that those with the city and parking enforcement do "prefer" drivers to use the app to pay. He said when drivers can access meter expiration reminders through the app and reset their time from anywhere, parking fines and fees can be avoided.
"With the app, you can pay from anywhere, you can set a reminder for 15 minutes before the time runs out and you can add more time without leaving a meeting, etc," Benton said. "With the meters and pay station you have to go back and add more time."
"The ParkMobile app has also contributed to the increase in parking meter revenues and the convenience of parking at meters," as stated in Little Rock's 2023 Annual Operating Budget.
Data provided by the city's Treasury Manager, Scott Massanelli, breaks down the revenue trends from 2019 to current.
In 2019, the city collected $409,994 from parking meters alone, without the use of ParkMobile.
However, during the worst of the covid-19 pandemic in 2020, revenue dropped drastically to a total $182, 373 collected from parking meters.
The 55.5% decrease in revenue is largely tied to the pandemic and a lack of business and travel downtown.
ParkMobile was only in use for part of the 2020 year.
Then, data shows a 74.9% increase when comparing the years 202o and 2021 -- with revenue bouncing back as travel returned to downtown and the city continued to advertise ParkMobile.
Parking revenue from meters in 2020 showed the largest dip in parking revenue collected by the city.
Since 2020, the city collected $318,896 in parking revenue in 2021 and $486,363 in 2022.
"Parking meter revenues increased 52.5% from 2021 to 2022 or $167,467 as business and traffic returned to downtown," the 2023 operating budget reads.
Massanelli said so far, the city has collected an estimated $145,104 in parking revenue for 2023.
Revenue from this year is less than $40,000 shy of the total revenue collected in 2020.
The operating budget also shows that operating expenses for the parking meters have remained steady over the years.
Operating expenses were listed as: $116, 457 in 2021, $134,555 in 2022 and an estimated $126,979 for 2023 according to the adopted budget.
"The most revenue will be in areas with high concentration eateries," Benton said. "The next will be areas where there are office buildings."
Two parking garages are also maintained and operated by the city.
According to the 2023 operating budget, direct revenue from the parking garages in 2022 is "approximately 8.7% higher than in 2021, but still below pre-pandemic."
"Garage revenues are generated by monthly and daily parking fees at the Second and Main Convention Center Parking Facility and the River Market Parking," according to the 2023 operating budget.
Additional data in the operating budget reiterates that the city has seen a 166.7% increase in revenue from meters when looking at 2022 compared to peak-pandemic 2020.
This, as mentioned in the budget, is due to both travel and traffic returning to downtown and the increased use of ParkMobile.
Efforts to receive detailed data on parking fines and tickets were unsuccessful.
However, the annual operating budget said that parking fines revenue was 'significantly higher' in 2022 compared to 2021 "as business and tourism traffic returned to downtown and more tickets were issued."