Passport Mobile Parking App Meets Student Demands for Latest Tech

Article by: Victor A. Hill, MPA, CAPP, Director of Parking & Transportation Services at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse


University students expect their campus to have the latest technology, especially when it comes to efficiently tackling their day-to-day classes and activities. Passport’s pay-by-phone app has helped our parking operation meet student expectations with new technology and plays a significant role in our efforts to provide the best parking options to all of our customers.

We began investigating pay-by-phone four years ago as we sought ways to streamline our operations while providing more options for customers, who can include students, faculty, staff, and visitors. We previously relied on single-space meters in many of our lots and only accepted credit cards online for citation payments or semester/annual permit sales. We did not have a way for customers to purchase hourly parking with credit cards and our only option online was a half or full day permit that is largely reserved for department and special event uses.


Passport’s app provided an important solution and is flexible enough to help our operation evolve with changes in technologies. We replaced our meters with pay stations and integrated Passport as another payment option. Customers can now pay at pay stations or bypass them entirely using Passport while in their cars or on their way to class. Passport’s use of license plates for validation has also helped set the stage for our transition into license plate recognition (LPR). We are in the midst of a gradual deployment of LPR with formal deployment scheduled for the 2017-18 academic year.

Our first year with Passport was slow for customer adoption but, as a midsize university, we expected a gradual adoption of pay-by-phone compared to more urban areas where apps and pay-by-plate options have become the norm. We looked at customer use patterns to determine ways to better utilize the technology after our first year with Passport. A few key findings stood out:

  • Credit card usage increased dramatically, and customers began using Passport more when they realized they could do so with credit/debit cards through an app. We expected the increase given that we hadn’t previously accepted cards, but we were still surprised that almost 85 percent of our transactions were with credit cards after we started accepting them. We viewed this as an opportunity to more aggressively promote pay-by-phone.
  • We increased the number of parking zones based on usage. Passport uses zones for customers to select when starting parking sessions. We worked with Passport to ensure that each zone corresponds to each commuter lot with a pay station. This update has made it easier for customers to identify preferred parking areas and for our enforcement personnel to determine where vehicles are located when monitoring compliance.
  • International students appear to be some of the earliest adopters of Passport. Anecdotal feedback shows that many of them used pay-by-phone elsewhere and it was familiar so selecting it for daily parking made sense. We used that information as part of materials for international students during their orientation to campus and emphasized pay-by-phone as an easy option.


Aggressive promotion is critical. Prior to the 2016-17 academic year, we installed new pay stations in another move toward LPR and added labels with updated Passport zones on all of the pay stations to better advertise the app’s availability. We quickly saw increased usage as customers learned to start sessions from their vehicles rather than stand at pay stations. We expect to see adoption increase even more as winter – and snow – arrive. More importantly, we created videos to show customers how to use the app and pay stations.

Pay-by-phone is a no-brainer in almost any parking operation. It provides a convenient option that customers appreciate, even if they’re not tech savvy. We’re realistic enough to know that we will not eliminate cash and coin from our operation soon, but having the flexibility to provide multiple ways to pay encourages compliance and enhances customer service.