Starting April 1, Delaware's parking meters will make the leap from the coin-operated 20th century to the smartphone era of the 21st.
Using the PassportParking Mobile Pay app, motorists will be able to pay for parking without coins at the city's 564 metered parking spaces. For the immediate future, the meters -- which will not be replaced -- also can be operated with coins.
Delaware City Council member Kent Shafer -- who also is vice mayor and chairman of council's parking and safety committee -- said the change stems from a parking study the city had commissioned in 2016.
A goal of the study, he said, was to answer the question, "How can we be more efficient with the parking we have?" and the parking-meter app is part of the solution.
After motorists register at the PassportParking Mobile Pay website, they can use the app to pay for time at city meters.
Each meter will have a decal identifying the meter's zone and number. The user will enter that information into the app, along with the amount of meter time being purchased, and their credit card will be billed, Shafer said.
An advantage of the system, he said, is the user can add more time to the meter from anywhere.
Users also can opt for a feature that will alert them when their meter time is about to expire.
"For our enforcement people, it makes it so much easier because they'll have an app that will immediately let them know where meters are expired," he said.
The system will require no changes to existing meters other than the new decals, he said.
Although meters will continue to show time purchased with coins, time purchased through the app will be visible only electronically.
The system allows the city to avoid what Shafer characterized as the high cost of smart meters, which would show time bought with an app.
Motorists also can use the app to pay for parking tickets, said Kelsey Scott, Delaware's economic-development specialist.
Passport will notify motorists if they incur a parking ticket and issue a reminder if they fail to pay the ticket within 30 days.
Passport will add a 10-cent charge to each purchase of meter time, regardless of the time purchased, she said. When motorists pay a delinquent ticket, Passport will receive 30 percent of the fine.
As a result, Shafer said, the city's cost for the new system will be limited to buying the decals and possibly the enforcement app.
He stressed that the new system isn't designed to improve the city's finances, which can't realistically reap significant benefit from parking.
Although the city has 564 metered spaces, it also has 1,531 spaces that can be used for free.
Instead, the goals are to make downtown parking more convenient for the public and to facilitate access to downtown businesses, he said.
The app also will provide flexibility.
"It gives us a platform on down the road if we want to add more meter parking," Shafer said. "If we want to adjust hours. ... We might have a three-hour zone today and decide to make it a four-hour zone. We can do that."
The app also will help the city monitor how and when parking spaces are used, providing information that can be used for future decisions, he said.
Another parking update occurred in 2018, when the city changed meters in its three main parking lots -- on Franklin, William and Winter streets -- from 10-hour to three-hour meters, he said.
The city sees the lots as a convenience for shoppers, he said, but 10-hour meters often are used by those employed downtown. Switching the lots to three-hour meters helps keep the lots open for consumers, and more 10-hour meters on the streets are available for employees, he said.
Scott said the 2016 study includes a list of short-, mid- and long-term recommendations and strategies.
Starting with Main Street Delaware's First Friday event April 5, the city will launch a social-media campaign with the #DelaWhere2Park hashtag, she said.
Also during First Friday, the Delaware Area Transit Agency will shuttle passengers from the Hayes County Administration Building parking lot, 145 N. Union St., to William Street downtown at 15-minute intervals from 6 to 9 p.m.
One long-term project still in the development stage, Shafer said, is setting aside two spaces in the East William Street parking lot where the city would offer electric-car recharging stations for a fee.
The plan would require City Council to amend the parking ordinance; no tentative date has been set for the service launch.