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Pay-by-phone parking fees go up Monday

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Local,Transportation,Liz Essley

The company that runs D.C.'s pay-by-phone parking service is raising its fees, starting Monday.

Parkmobile will start charging 45 cents instead of the current 32 cents, in addition to the cost of the parking meter, every time someone pays by phone for a car spot in the District.

The company, a private contractor that splits fees with the city, blamed the increase on recent federal legislation affecting banks.

"Beginning October 29th, transaction fees in D.C. will increase from $0.32 to $0.45 due to increased costs triggered by recent federal legislative reform enacted by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act's Durbin Amendment," Parkmobile said in an email to customers.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., blasted the email, saying it was credit card companies that raised Parkmobile's costs, not the law he sponsored.

"Your company's email and press release incorrectly blame the Durbin Amendment for increasing your processing fees. My amendment did not raise these fees, it put a ceiling on them. Visa and MasterCard raised your fees, and as a merchant you were helpless to stop them short of the ceiling the new law created," Durbin wrote in a letter to Parkmobile's CEO.

Parkmobile spokesman Laurens Eckelboom said Durbin's amendment put a cap on all debit fees, prompting banks to eliminate lower rates for smaller transactions like parking.

"In our case the processing costs tripled because of these changes," Eckelboom said.

Parkmobile is offering customers a way to keep the fees down to 30 cents per transaction if they prepay for parking in online "wallets" -- a new feature the company is rolling out with CitiBank in D.C. before introducing it nationwide.

Users can go to parkmobile.com to sign up for a wallet and put money into it, then draw funds from it via a smartphone app or by an old-fashioned phone call when they pay for parking -- similar to the E-ZPass system.

Parkmobile promises the wallet will make parking simpler and cheaper for customers.

More than 400,000 people have paid by phone for parking since the District launched the program in July 2011, the D.C. Department of Transportation said.

lessley@washingtonexaminer.com

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