With nearly 30,000 new residents moving to the state last year, it’s no surprise that Oregon is one of the fastest growing states in the country. Many of those new residents are settling in Portland, the state’s biggest city, attracted by the city’s strong economy and high-quality of life.
As welcome as the growth is, it has created challenges for Portland’s transportation system, including more congestion and increased demand for parking. The city’s transportation agency, the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) has drawn on Portland’s legacy as a transportation innovator to meet these challenges.
To alleviate parking congestion, Portland needed a solution that was well-thought out and planned with Portland residents at top of mind– enter mobile payments for parking. The city not only implemented a mobile pay solution, it took a calculated risk by launching an app with a quirky name and a hot pink cat, resulting in a successful launch, ongoing national and international attention, and rapid adoption of the app.
“We have seen the rate of driving in single-occupancy vehicles increase, plus the economy is booming and gas is very cheap … there are a lot of things in the market causing people to drive more. And as more people move to Portland, some into apartment buildings, quite a few of them own cars, some of which get stored on the streets. We’re working to manage the increased demands of congestion and parking.” – Leah Treat, Director, PBOT
Passport enabled Portland to create a private label mobile app configured to the city’s needs and unique personality. The unique branding of Parking Kitty brought national recognition to the PBOT, and the system has reached 20% utilization after less than a year of launch.
Portland engaged with an agency to create the Parking Kitty brand. The concept is both a pun on “feeding the kitty” (pooling money) and a play on Portland’s quirky cat culture. (Portlanders are very passionate about cats. The Seattle Times reported in 2015 that the Portland area had the most “cat ladies” of any urban area in the nation.) The hot pink brand is not only eye-catching, it provides users with a moment of joy during a (let’s be honest) typically mundane experience.
“We knew we didn’t want to just call it Portland Parking or similar. We were open to taking calculated risks and we knew we needed something slightly more fun to encourage use. We wanted to do something memorable, so Parking Kitty was born. It’s a pun about feeding a kitty, or pot of money, and also pays ode to Portland’s cat culture.” – Leah Treat, Director, PBOT
PBOT worked hand-in-hand with Passport’s marketing team to deploy an ongoing integrated marketing campaign that propelled the app’s awareness very quickly. At launch, street teams of brand ambassadors wearing branded T-shirts and passing out flyers were used to promote the app. Public relations efforts garnered media attention about the app, granting Parking Kitty international exposure. Additionally, radio campaigns and signage throughout the city have ensured that drivers know there is a convenient way to pay for parking. However, the pièce de résistance was with Portland rapper, MoShow. The self-proclaimed “cat-rapper” is a social media celebrity. PBOT hired him to make the “iAmMoShow – Parking Kitty” music video to promote the app and it has 20,000 views on YouTube for the 1.5-minute video. The branding and the video caught the attention of TechCrunch and USA Today in addition to local news outlets.
Parkers and local businesses are incredibly enthusiastic about the app. Shop owners pay for customer parking with ease; employees at a roofing company are happy that they can extend their parking sessions while on the job; and a pilates instructor loves the app so much, she offered to wear a Parking Kitty shirt while she was teaching to promote the app to her clients.
Where are they now?
Since launching Parking Kitty in 2017, the app accounts for nearly 38% of all parking sessions throughout the city. Parking Kitty, on average, processes over $1M in mobile pay parking transactions on a monthly basis, a 39% increase from the monthly average in 2018, and has already processed over $10M in parking transactions in 2019.