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Use parking apps to find lots, garages, valet, and meters

Glenn Fleishman | July 21, 2015
If you own a car in America, you need a place to put it, overnight and intermittently. If you're lucky while at home, that's at a curb, in a drive way, or in a spot in a garage or lot thats yours all the time. For every other combination in commercial or business parts of cities, particularly downtowns, you'll almost always need to pay for it.

But because you're using an app, you not only pay upfront and electronically no fumbling with cash or having to find an ATM nearby but you can set the duration of when you need the spot, and, in some locations, scan a 2D QR Code to exit. In limited cases, you even get in-and-out privileges during the reservation.

SpotHero seems to dominate this space (pun intended), both in terms of cities that are comprehensively covered (12 at the moment), lots included, and the fact that they only list spaces that they can let you prepay a set rate for the time during a day or across multiple days that you need. (Some lots charge an extra fee for SUVs or other oversize vehicles that have to be paid on site at the time of exit.)

ParkWhiz provides reservations in what it counts as over 150 cities, but in my testing, it is thicker in many places than others: San Francisco and Chicago scored many matches, while Seattle hardly any and Los Angeles very few. ParkNow lets you pay for any spot you find, but only in San Francisco.

Other services offer a combination of rate discovery what it would cost based on their own and customer reports of pricing with more limited options for reserving and paying in advance. They include BestParking and ParkMe. (ParkMe links to other sites, such as ParkWhiz, to handle booking a spot when thats available.)

Pay for meters and other on-the-spot spots

An on-street spot is often convenient. Running out of time and paying a fine is not. Several firms take the pain out of meter-based parking by letting you pay through your app, receive messages as time runs out, and even extend your remaining time with a tap wherever you are. Some of these apps also or instead let you pay on site through your phone for spaces in a self-serve lot or garage.

These apps partner with parking authorities and parking-space operators, and typically but not always charge a fee above the cost of paying with coins, bills, or a credit card. Given the cost of a parking ticket or the hassle of a boot attached to your wheel, that extra fee doesn't feel like much.

Because you're paying in the app, you have to set up an account with the license plate number of your car, a credit card, and other details. Some are integrated with Apple Pay, as Apple allows real-world transactions of this kind without its 30 percent cut. It can take a few minutes to get everything in order, so don't leave it till you arrive unless you give yourself extra time. You also need a live internet connection, which might not be available inside an underground garage.


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