Downtown Missoula parking app gets an upgrade with easier business validation

With changes made to downtown Missoula’s parking meters, businesses are able to give customers validation codes of a predetermined amount to discount their parking. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

After a year of preparations, the Missoula Parking Commission and the software company Passport will introduce new technology this summer to improve parking convenience and efficiency in downtown Missoula.

Launched in Missoula in February 2017, the Passport Parking app makes it easier for residents to pay for parking without having to return to a meter.

Users can upload card payment information and pay for more time while shopping, meeting or on a lunch date. Each transaction has a fee of 25 cents, but implementing the technology with the meters was free.

After a year of feedback from users, Passport client success manager Conor Buckley said that improvements are coming within the next six months. A few have already been made.

Changes to app efficiency, such as allowing users to finish transactions on one screen and offering email receipts, will be added. Already, businesses can give customers merchant validation codes of a predetermined amount to discount their parking session.

After a business creates an account with Passport for free, they can load a minimum of $50 to their account, linked to a unique seven-digit validation code. They can then offer a customer a code redeemable in the app that provides them a discount of a dollar or more for their parking in downtown Missoula.

Loading money into an account comes with a small merchant processing fee, Buckley said.

Soon, users of the app will also be able to find zone number parking locations and businesses offering validation codes via GPS. Buckley said that using the codes could be a great way to get people into local businesses.

“It’s a great idea for parkers to go to where businesses are offering these validations,” Buckley said at a Missoula Parking Commission luncheon on Tuesday. “[Residents] want to find shops, go eat. That’s the idea behind this is to give them the option to explore the next steps with the validations.”

Missoula Parking Commission director Rod Austin said that in addition to updates with the app, the commission is replacing gate arms starting Wednesday in both the Park Place parking structure and the Caras Park lot.

Gate installation in the Central Park structure and in the unfinished student housing parking garage will be finished by late June, Austin said. Residents can still access the structures during construction.

According to Austin, gate maintenance has been difficult due to the gate servicer going out of business.

Because of gate-related issues, the Park Place lot lost about $25,000 in revenue in 2017. Updates and equipment replacements are funded entirely by the commission and the revenue made from paid parking.

For residents who have leased parking spots, the commission is introducing an automated vehicle identification system that will read a chip on a resident’s windshield from 30 feet away, allowing access into a structure or lot with less wait time.

For hourly parking, a resident’s credit card will be used as a ticket, replacing paper stubs in a few parking structures.

“There will be less waiting in line in those pinch points in the mornings and evenings,” Austin said.

The commission will also purchase a new electric scooter that parking enforcement officers can use.

In July, all three scooters will be equipped with a license plate recognition camera, allowing for more efficient and accurate readings to enforce parking violations. Austin said that everything that has to do with registration will be linked to a person’s license plate.

“We’re going to be license plate-driven,” Austin said. “If you have a permit, a pass, a decal, chances are 99.9 percent that we will not have those in six months.”