For Residents Without Credit Cards, Miami Parking Is About To Get More Expensive

Dec 17, 2018

In a 4-1 vote last week, the City of Miami Commission decided to increase parking rates across the city, a move which will bring an estimated $10 million extra in annual revenue.

But city residents will be able to pay a flat citywide rate of $1.40 -- which is in some cases cheaper than current rates -- on the condition that they register their cars with the city through the PayByPhone app. The app is owned by Volkswagen, the world’s largest car manufacturer.

It’s the latest utterance of the City of Miami’s move to systematically merge its parking services with the privately owned company, and one which has technology policy watchdogs crying foul.

“You’re giving a cost break to people who already have a little more money and a little more privilege,” said Rebecca Jeschke, a digital analyst at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a California-based technology watchdog group. “Those are people who have a phone, who are well banked, who have a debit card, so it becomes unfair to people who have less technology and less resources.”

In a written statement, the Miami Parking Authority acknowledged that city residents without access to credit or debit cards will be forced to pay more for parking.

“City residents who do not have a smartphone also have the option of dialing the toll-free 800 number located on the street signage to pay for parking. They will need to have a credit or debit card to pay for their parking,” reads the statement. “Otherwise, they will need to pay the newly increased rates at one of the parking machines.”

That might be easier said than done. As WLRN has previously reported, over the last decade the City of Miami has removed nearly all of its physical parking machines, leaving broad parts of the city with only one way to pay for parking: the PayByPhone app. Art Noriega, the CEO of the Miami Parking Authority, told WLRN in a July interview that physical machines are still broadly accessible, but data provided by his department showed otherwise.

“This sounds ridiculously unfair,” Jen King, the Director of Consumer Privacy at Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society, wrote to WLRN in an email. “On one hand, we have policymakers insisting that the Internet and mobile phones are optional, and then you have cities building these programs into their infrastructure.”

A serious issue at play with the city’s use of the PayByPhone app is data gathering, said Jeschke.

PayByPhone’s Terms of Service explicitly states that the app shares parking data with third parties, including law enforcement. Now, if a city resident doesn’t agree with the company’s Terms of Service, they will have to pay higher, non-resident rates for parking.

“You shouldn't have to give up your privacy to get a cheaper rate on anything,” said Jeschke.

The city of Miami was the first major city in the U.S. to start accepting mobile payments for parking, according to a PayByPhone press release. Since then, the city has positioned itself as an innovator in the parking technology space, largely in collaboration with the app.

“There’s so many other cities around the country that look to us in terms of this [PayByPhone] program, how we set it up, how we marketed it,” Miami Parking Authority CEO Noriega previously said in an interview.

Asked if the city was forcing users to use the app, he added: “I don’t think that we’re forcing anyone to do anything. First of all, to get into the app and use it you have to agree to the terms of service.”

About 88 percent of all parking transactions in the city take place through the PayByPhone app, according to the Miami Parking Authority.

According to the item passed by the city commission, new parking rates for non-residents will vary depending on the neighborhood. The highest rates will be in Wynwood, where the hourly rate will increase to $3.25 an hour, and in the Midtown and Jackson Memorial Hospital areas, which will increase to $3 an hour.

The new rates go into effect on January 1.