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What's the city's answer to making downtown parking easier? There's an app for that

You can still feed coins into the meter, but now you can buy time on your smart phone

Greater Sudbury is hoping a new initiative will help deal with a common complaint from people shopping downtown who come back to their vehicles to find a parking ticket waiting for them.

On Thursday, staff unveiled the first stage of offering visitors a different way of paying for parking – and avoiding tickets at one of the roughly 450 downtown parking meters. 

People can now download the HotSpot parking app on their smart phones and use it to buy a maximum of three hours of parking at any meter.

Check out this video to see how it works.

Melissa Laalo, the city's interim bylaw co-ordinator, said all downtown meters have stickers on them with an ID number for each meter. App users enter that number into the app, along with their license plate number, and how much time they want to purchase.

“And if you don't use all your parking time, you can actually refund yourself and use it at another time, which is I think an awesome feature,” Laalo said. 

But if your shopping or medical appointment runs long and you're running out of time on your meter, the app will send you a notification and you can add more time, as long as you haven't been in the space for more than three hours. 

“When you get to the three hours, that's the end of your parking session,” she said. “But anywhere up to that point you can top up.”

Meter readers will be able to tell whether the vehicle parked in the spot still has time left by running the licence plate through the app, which will tell them how much time is left. 

The three-hour limit is 60 minutes longer than the previous time limit, and is intended to ensure downtown workers, among others, don't monopolize spots intended for visitors.

“You have to either find a lot, or wait an hour and then come back for another session,” Laalo said. “The whole purpose behind it is to free up the parking spaces for the transient downtown person who wants to come in to shop or quick trip, not for the whole day.”

People who don't want to use the mobile pay wallet on their phone can use their credit card instead, she said, although it will cost an extra 17 cents for each transaction.

Longer term, Laalo said the plan is to remove all the meters downtown and replace them with pay boxes, where people can use coins, credit and debit cards or the app to pay for parking.

“So rather than having to worry about coins all the time, you can  pay in a variety of ways at the pay stations,” she said. 

There is support available for people unsure of how to set up and use the HotSpot app 

“On the side of every meter, there's a phone number you can call and they have agents to ... walk you through how to set up the app, or if you have any problems with a pay station, they can help.”