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New parking app eases the downtown tangle

DO YOU still have last-minute shopping to do but the thought of trying park downtown during the holiday madness has you flummoxed? Fear not, the City of Savannah has relief at your fingertips.

In addition to offering the first three hours free in the Liberty, Robinson, State, Whitaker and Bryan street garages through this week, a new app is making it easier to navigate parking on the street.

ParkSavannah allows users to pay for and extend time on their phones for any of the city’s 3000 metered parking spaces, dispensing with the need for coins and on-street machines.

No more hoarding quarters or performing the exhausting dance of parking, locking the car, walking down the block to the kiosk to get a printed ticket, walking back to the car and placing the ticket perfectly on the dash so that the breeze from shutting the door doesn’t blow it on the floor so you get a ticket anyway. (Anyone else? Show of hands?)

Downloadable for free from iTunes and Google Play, the ParkSavannah app launched in June and has already garnered over 45,000 unique “parking sessions,” a testament to its convenience and usability.

“The app has been running well and at this point accounts for between 12 percent and 17 percent of our transactions, depending on the day,” reports Sean Brandon, City of Savannah Mobility and Parking Services director.

Even the clumsy-thumbed will find the ParkSavannah app friendly: First time users simply download and open the app, enter their mobile phone number and add a payment method—the software is encrypted to protect your credit card info.

Once you’re signed in, all there is to do is enter the space number and how long you’d like to park. No worries if you only paid up for the duration of your Dancing Dogs yoga class but got caught up in the sale rack at Harper: The app will send you an alert when your time is almost up and give you the option of adding more.

“Essentially, what it allows a parker to do is to pay for parking from the car or remotely and extend the session at any point to whatever the maximum time is,” explains Chris Watt, a client success executive with Passport, the software company that designed ParkSavannah.

“You can even pay for someone else’s parking from across the country—it’s a Savannah-specific app, but it can be used all over the world.”

Utilizing the same technology that powers the public parking systems in Chicago, Toronto and Detroit, Passport tweaked its code to align with the city’s branding and needs. An extended beta test last spring provided designers with feedback for the final version.

“It really needed to make sense for both residents and visitors, and we wanted to make sure it was customized and configured for Savannah,” continues Watt.

“The app is future-proofed in that we can add in additional features as they become available and allows us to adjust to the direction the city is taking.”

That direction is expected to take a sharp turn soon, as the city moves to implement the recommendations from the Parking Matters Study adopted by City Council earlier this year. The ParkSavannah app is part of the first phase of a complete retooling of a mismatched, outdated parking grid.

Recognizing that there are only a finite number of places to park in downtown Savannah (about 20,000 including the garages), the next phases of the plan simplify the city’s parking system by streamlining time limits throughout the historic district and funding infrastructure for bicycles and ridesharing.

However, increased hourly rates—to as much as $2 an hour in the downtown core—and extended enforcement to 8pm on weekdays and on Saturdays for the first time in history have caused controversy.

There is concern that service workers and retail employees will be negatively impacted by the higher rates, and some locals have expressed skepticism that the plan will ease congestion at peak hours.

The City intends to go ahead with the new parking plan, though it recgonizes that it will take time to transition.

“We’re still looking at January for implementation,” says Brandon, noting that it is still subject to final council approval as a part of the 2018 budget.

“It will probably be a slow roll out, with a lot of warnings being issued as people are given time to adapt to the new system.”