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How Cities can Manage Health Threats while Encouraging Mobility

We are all learning how to navigate the world around us as the country reopens in the wake of COVID-19. In times like these, with so much uncertainty and fear, innovation must become more than a buzzword – it must become a way of life. This is certainly true when it comes to running governments and delivering basic services. 

Cities face significant challenges in the coming months as they juggle high-profile, pandemic-related fallout. As people return to city streets and sidewalks, innovation and change will be necessary to support public health. The “new normal” for parking, transportation and urban movement, in general, must be built on public health guidance, equity, and innovation.

Public Health Guidance

Parking meters and coins spread germs, and given that the coronavirus can live on metal for up to nine days, hundreds of people can touch the same meter during that time span, each passing the virus to the other. This creates a potential domino effect that can inadvertently carry the virus to homes and places of business.

To prevent the spread of germs, cities will need to think outside the box about how to reduce points of physical contact on municipal devices. Digital methods to pay for parking and transportation, which use credit cards and mobile devices, are rising to meet the need. However, there are additional opportunities for cities to migrate from physical to digital infrastructure as communities reopen. 

Considerations for Equity and Adoption

Recent reports indicate the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on low income communities and people of color. While preparing for a post-COVID future, elected leaders should consider how to innovate  government processes and institutions to support communities more severely impacted. Technology that supports the ability for cities to reduce hardware dependencies and streamline parking and transportation processes must still provide equitable services for the unbanked and smartphone inaccessible populations.

In addition, cities must choose a solution that can achieve rapid, widespread public adoption. For the solution to solve the issues at hand, it must be readily accessible and easy for everyone to use.

Solving through Innovation

To support city efforts towards equitable solutions to touchless government services, Passport has updated its operating system to help accelerate the widespread adoption of contactless payments. The Passport operating system uses an open ecosystem model that provides more choices to pay for parking through traditional parking apps as well as lifestyle, ADA compliant and other applications. In addition, the operating system supports:

  1. Prepaid Card Processing. These payment mechanisms act like a Visa or Mastercard but users purchase and “load” funds onto it with cash and spend down from the amount initially dispersed onto the card. This is a safer alternative than handling coins. 
  2. IVR (Interactive Voice Response). An alternative where payments are made over the phone by interacting with an automated system.
  3. Multi-app Environment. Offer more choices to pay for parking—from other parking apps, to payment through apps people already use on a daily basis ie-maps, fueling, etc—which ultimately improves the customer experience and drives higher app utilization, compliance rates and most importantly revenue.

Cities can configure the Passport operating system according to their unique needs and preferences. For example, a city may want to keep parking meters but then actively push users to digital via marketing or pricing adjustments, such as removing or reducing mobile convenience fees. In contrast, another city may decide to disable meters entirely and promote IVR, prepaid card processing and enable a multi-app environment. 

Cities taking Action

Video: City of Austin goes meterless

Cities like Austin, TX have already taken action to support public health through contactless parking payments. The city has already removed 50% of its single space meters in an effort to introduce mobile-pay-only (contactless payment) zones. 

Austin began its initiative by using parking and zone data to prioritize its single space meter zones, converting them to mobile-pay-only locations before tackling its busier parking zones. Using Passport’s operating system for contactless, mobile parking payments, the City of Austin plans to remove all single space meters by the end of August.

Other cities, like Atlanta, GA have introduced multiple mobile payment options through an open ecosystem, which has boosted mobile transactions. Atlanta saw a 300% increase in mobile transactions which proves people are becoming more comfortable with contactless payments. As cities push their residents and visitors alike to use contactless forms of payment to pay for parking, convenience and user choice will continue to drive compliance. 

As people return to city streets and sidewalks, public health, equity and innovation will be the building blocks of pragmatic governing and problem-solving. Now is the time for city leaders to leverage technology and shape a “new normal” that surpasses pre-COVID-19 standards.