In a sparsely decorated office in Braddock, two men are trying to build a parking payment empire and it all started with a lunchtime conversation.
“One of our colleagues, she opened up her purse to help chip in and instead of pulling out money she pulled out a fist full of parking tickets,” said MeterFeeder co-founder and CEO Jim Gibbs. “She looked at us with desperation in her eyes and said, ‘If you make an app where I can pay for parking I would use it every day.’ And two weeks later MeterFeeder was born.”
Gibbs and his co-founder Dan Lopretto actually built two apps, one for the municipality to give to its parking meter enforcement team and one for the person who is parking their car.
“We simply give an Android tablet or mobile device to the parking enforcement officer, they continue on the route like they normally do,” Gibbs said. “If they see a meter is expired, they simply check our app. If someone has paid using our payment app, then they just continue on. If they don’t, then they just write them a ticket and continue on their way.”
The apps allow municipalities with coin-operated meters to move into the digital age without having to replace all of its meters.
The mobile device, a rugged bluetooth printer and two years' worth of internet connectivity are available for $2,000. Gibbs said that's less than what other electronic payment systems charge for their devices and much less than the tens, or even hundreds, of thousands of dollars needed to replace coin-operated meters with credit card-ready meters or kiosks.
Pittsburgh recently replaced 20 of its multi-space parking payment kiosks for $130,000 and has contracted with Atlanta-based Park Mobile for smartphone payments.
Carnegie Borough has been using MeterFeder since February.
“We felt that, obviously number one (was to) give parkers and visitors a different option other than just having to utilize coin payment,” said Borough Manager Stephen Beuter. “Also we felt that it would be a good way for us to try to track what we’re doing, as far as parking goes.”
Beuter said borough officials are in the process of gathering data and will soon do a six-month review. Anecdotally, he said, it has been well received by both the parking enforcement team and the parkers.
“Of course, there are a couple of growing pains, just as far as the new technology is concerned," Beuter said. "But we’re working through those."
The MeterFeeder apps sync with other ticketing software that a municipality might be using, too. Gibbs said sending out tickets is one area in which they do not want to compete with the established providers.
While all of the municipalities currently using MeterFeeder are small, Gibbs said it can be scaled up to any size city. The company has recently hired two more developers and Gibbs said he expects to grow the company to 11 employees in the coming months. But the driving force for him will always be making life a little easier.
“I have a wife and four kids, so there is never a chance of me ever having change in my pocket,” Gibbs said. “So its like, the coin meters that you see around, we’re just trying to make sure that we’re there so I personally can stop getting tickets.”
In this week's Tech headlines:
- The Inamori Foundation has named Takeo Kanade of Carnegie Mellon University, as the winner of the 2016 Kyoto Prize for Advanced Technology for his work in creating computers that can process optical data, know as “computer vision,” and robotics. Kanade came to the Robotics Institute at CMU in 1980 and, according to the school, has spent his time working on technology such as face detection, automated driving and 3-D image reconstruction.
- Apple is embroiled in a Chinese patent dispute that threatens to block future sales of the iPhone 6 in Beijing unless the company can overturn a regulator's recent ruling. The potential ban stems from a decision issued last month by the Beijing Intellectual Property Office. The agency found the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus infringed on a Chinese company's patent for the exterior design of its smartphone called the 100C. Apple Inc. is still being allowed to sell the both of the affected iPhone models while it appeals the ruling to an intellectual property court in China. If it loses, Apple could be forbidden from selling its most profitable iPhones in China's capital at a time when sales of the entire iPhone line have already been declining.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.