Over the last decade, the city of Miami has removed the vast majority of individual street parking meters and half of its multispace meters, according to the Miami Parking Authority. This has led to vast sections of the city that have no available methods of paying for parking other than using PayByPhone, a privately owned company that is owned by Volkswagen, the largest car manufacturer in the world.
Data shared to WLRN by the Miami Parking Authority underscores this fact, weeks after Art Noriega, the CEO of the Miami Parking Authority denied that it is forcing people to use the app in certain areas of the city.
“I don’t think that we’re forcing anyone to do anything,” Noriega told WLRN in an interview. Asked about areas where street meters can demonstrably not be found, he said: “I’m pretty sure that if we walked out there I could find you a machine within pretty close proximity.”
The data provided by Noriega’s office tells another story.
Out of 77 parking “zones” maintained by the Miami Parking Authority, 27 of them register 100% of transactions through PayByPhone, suggesting a lack of other payment options, according a spreadsheet provided by the agency.
“These areas offered a combination of single-space meters and PayByPhone,” said Alejandra Argudin, chief operating officer of the Miami Parking Authority, in a written statement.
At some point, the single space meters were removed from those areas.
“In removing the single-space meters, we only left the PaybyPhone signage, which is what people in these areas were using,” wrote Argudin. "The advent and use of the parking-payment technology is inexorably changing parking operations in Miami and elsewhere. Technology has helped us respond to customers’ complaints about meters being jammed, broken and vandalized, hence the under-utilization of the equipment.”
A map provided to WLRN shows broad swaths of the city that have no street meters on site, but where drivers still have to pay for parking. (Note on 11/21/18: This map was current as of the day this story was published. The data might have been updated after the date of publishing.)
Large islands where the city charges for parking with no street meters in sight can be found in the Allapattah, Wynwood, East Little Havana, the Upper Eastside, Little Haiti and Little River neighborhoods. Smaller pockets of several blocks at a stretch without parking meters can be found dispersed across the city.
“There are many areas where the parking meters have been reduced, largely because of the significant use of PaybyPhone,” said Argudin. “Therefore, after removing the single-space meters, those areas remained offering the PaybyPhone parking-payment platform.”
“Furthermore … there are many areas throughout the city that are unregulated. This means that people do not have to pay for parking,” she said. “The areas that you point out are those where this situation is most prevalent. In fact, the only spaces regulated in these areas are marked on the map you received. The rest of the areas within those communities are unregulated, meaning, again, that we do not charge for parking.”
The city of Miami became the first major US city to introduce PayByPhone technology in 2008, and has since credited the technology with making the Miami Parking Authority “the largest parking organization in the United States and the second largest globally relative to PayByPhone transaction volume,” according to a press release it issued earlier this year. The technology has helped make Miami “a leader in parking innovation nationally and globally,” it added.
The agency says that the app helps save the city money on sending staff out to maintain machines and collect payments. Further, the technology is clearly convenient, allowing users to extend parking times without having to physically return to their cars.
But as WLRN has previously reported, the lack of payment options in certain areas has led to drivers being ticketed when they could not access the app for some reason. Eric Gonzalez, a student at Florida International University, said that he received two tickets after he was kicked off of the app because his phone software became outdated.
“Parking traditionally with cash, it would be a $1.50 an hour. But with PayByPhone app it basically makes parking $1.50 an hour, plus a $350 phone,” complained Gonzalez. “It really ties the hands of a lot of people, including people like myself. I’m young, I don’t have too much money to spend on things like phones, but I essentially had to.”
Digital policy watchdog groups have questioned the decision to push people onto the app, citing the terms of service. Data collected by PayByPhone is shared with police, other government agencies and other unnamed third parties, according to the company. Watchdogs fear that the data could be used to track drivers’ political or social activities, and even be used in things like divorce cases or other civil suits.
“They’re collecting the license plate, the location, and your name with a credit card,” said Rebecca Jeschke, an analyst with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “When you centralize all that information in one app, that’s what makes it concerning. It’s a honeypot. It’s easier for people to start seeing things.”
“It’s not just about the one time you park, it’s about every time you park,” said Jen King, the Director of Consumer Privacy at Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society. “It enables the abilities for the company -- and potentially law enforcement if they request it through the company -- to build a dossier on every place that you park. Some people won’t care about that. Other people will find that extremely sensitive.”
“I understand the desire to get away from the infrastructure part of it, but there’s a real concern here that not everyone has cell phones, not everyone has credit cards, not everyone really has a debit card or a bank account,” said King. “Forcing people into a cashless society when you don’t have the resources to be cashless seems implicitly unfair.”