Finding parking in busy cities can be a daunting task, and once you find an empty space you have to deal with the dreaded parking meter. That involves carrying lots of coins to put in the meter to keep the parking police at bay.
Once you're lucky enough to get a space and drop the right number of coins in the meter, you have to carefully keep track of time so your paid session doesn't expire before you get back. Workers in urban areas no doubt have raced back to the meter just prior to time running out to drop even more coins in the meter.
With the smartphone in the process it couldn't be easier. The city of Houston has partnered with Parkmobile to make most downtown parking meters smartphone friendly. I got my first experience using the system recently, and it is awesome.
Parkmobile has apps for Android, Windows Phone 7, BlackBerry, and the iPhone which handle everything with aplomb. Once you pull in your parking space you start a session in the app and enter the "zone" of the meter at your location. If that's too much work you can use the phone's camera to snap the QR code of the meter and have the zone entered automatically. Then you select the amount of time you want to pay for and your bank account is tapped for the proper amount for parking. The app tells you if the meter you're using has a maximum limit for parking time.
You have to set up your account before parking the first time, but then you're all set. Just tap to pay and go about your busy schedule. The app even remembers where your car is parked, so if you forget exactly where you left it the app can show you on a map where it is.
If you get tied up and don't get back to your car before the paid session ends, the app has you covered. Just before expiration, you get either a text message or email (by settings) that warns you. You can then go back to the app and extend your parking session from anywhere.
This may be overkill for those who only go downtown occasionally, but for regular visitors it can be a game changer. Houston even has a Hopper service using the app that for $6 per day lets you move the car all around the downtown area for that fee.
Urban living just got a lot easier with this service for those cities that have this system in place. You can check online to see if your city center is covered by this or a similar system.