PPA gives up on its Smart Card system

The decade-old prepaid system will be phased out by the end of the year. Rising costs have been blamed.
The decade-old prepaid system will be phased out by the end of the year. Rising costs have been blamed. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Posted: February 13, 2014

PHILADELPHIA The Philadelphia Parking Authority is abandoning its Smart Card pay system, leaving customers to pay with only cash or credit cards.

PPA is losing money with the decade-old prepaid system, Corrine O'Connor, deputy executive director, said Tuesday.

"It just wasn't really fiscally sound to keep in that type of business," she said.

The agency announced Tuesday that it would not renew its contract to sell Smart Cards through OmPay, a Philadelphia-based technology firm. The cards will be sold through May 30, and must be used before they expire at the end of December.

When the Smart Card system ends, customers can pay with cash or credit cards at the city's 1,023 parking kiosks. Coins will be the only form of payment accepted at the 6,000 meters that now take Smart Cards.

When asked how much money it had spent on Smart Card since it was launched in 2004, O'Connor said she did not have the information at hand.

The agency pays a fee to OmPay for each Smart Card purchase, O'Connor said. For cards sold online and through the Parking Authority, that fee is 9 percent. When Wawa, ShopRite, and other retailers sell Smart Cards, OmPay gets 19 percent of each sale.

Furthermore, it costs PPA about 93 cents to produce each Smart Card, and that cost is rising as card sales decrease, O'Connor said.

In 2008, Smart Card sales reached $3 million. But from April through December, Smart Card sales totaled just $300,000. Meanwhile, customers used cash and credit cards to pay for $26 million worth of parking.

Deputy Mayor for Transportation and Utilities Rina Cutler said she was not surprised by Tuesday's announcement, and added that she hopes PPA will look into smartphone apps, which she has seen implemented in other cities.

"My guess is that's in the cards for Philadelphia as well," Cutler said.

The Parking Authority has not started looking at other forms of technology, O'Connor said.

"We'll probably in the near future start looking into all of that," she said.

The agency began selling Smart Cards through OmPay in 2004, O'Connor said, and renewed its contract in 2007 and 2010. It was renewed for a shorter term in 2012 as officials "saw that [sales] were starting to go down," she said.

Representatives for OmPay could not be reached Tuesday.


lmccrystal@phillynews.com

267-559-1264 @Lmccrystal

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