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Buffalo earning one-fifth of its parking revenue from app

Mike Desmond

Whether you want to pay to park or not as you roam across Buffalo, there is an increasingly popular alternative to dropping quarters or wandering down the street to the computerized parking ticket vending machine.

The days when Buffalo just had meters that took coins are long gone. Now there are the solar-powered meters that take credit cards and issue paper tickets to put on the dashboard.

There is also cyber-parking. The city has Buffalo Roam, a phone app that takes payments and convenience fees, warns you when the time is running low and allows extensions even without leaving your bar stool.

"They open it up, ask it what zone they are parking in? How much do they want to pay for? Do they want to pay for an hour? Do they want to pay for two hours?" said Kevin Helfer, city parking commissioner and executive Director of the Buffalo Traffic Violations Agency. "As an example, if you are at a dollar-an-hour meter and you want to pay for two hours, it's going to ask you, 'Do you approve of the two hours of parking? Yes, I do.' That'll be $2 plus a 10-cent convenience fee. 'Do you approve to debit your card, credit your card for $2.10? Yep.' Done.)

Helfer says a lot of money is coming off the web.

"Overall, we're probably trending this year from our metered parking somewhere north of $2 million," said Helfer. "So using rough numbers, a little over 20 percent people using Buffalo Roam, 20 percent, 22 percent of $2 million is $440,000 coming through the app."

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News
Old and new ways of paying the meter can b found in Buffalo.

Helfer says he expects that percentage to increase and there is a even a test downtown in a small area where the app is the only way to pay. The system keeps track of who has paid, so that if a traffic violations officer tries to issue a ticket, the machine will tell the officer the parking fee is paid.

The commissioner says this all actually cuts cost for the city, because there is less need to maintain parking meters and less need to send people around to empty the coin boxes. He says the city also is learning more and more about when and where people park.

"Pay-and-display machines give us good data, as well, but, yes, this certainly gives us an incredible amount of data," Helfer says, "but there are so many nice features to it. Data is a great feature. Like I said, less cost of infrastructure, less manpower to go and empty the machines. But it's so customer friendly."

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