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By Yara Askar, University Communications

After a few runs back to his car while out with friends in San Francisco, University of Arizona alumnus Ross Shanken got frustrated by how often he was leaving dinner to check  the parking meter.

Shanken, who was a student in the UA’s Eller College of Management the time, later met with classmates Thomas Maguire and Austin Weiss; the three started searching for a solution to the parking meter problem – and eventually co-founded a business.

After establishing their business, Park Genius, the three launched a mobile app under the same name that allows drivers to pay for parking meters remotely, and it has benefits for both general community members and students. The application is free to download in the Apple App Store and in the Google Play store.

“Having to hoard quarters in my car was not only annoying, but seemed incredibly unnecessary considering the technology that surrounds us today everywhere we look,” said Maguire, Park Genius and co-founder and chief financial officer.

The app went live in 2012 in a private lot near East University Boulevard and North Tyndall Avenue, shortly after the trio graduated from the McGuire Entrepreneurship Program.

In August 2013, the founders began a pilot with the City of Tucson, making Park Genius available on more than 200 meters around campus and downtown Tucson.

Currently the application can be used at select parking meters in the following locations:

  • East University Boulevard between North Park and North Euclid Avenues
  • East Seventh Street between North Highland and North Cherry Avenues
  • East Helen Street between North Fremont and North Santa Rita Avenues
  • The parking lot near East University Boulevard and North Tyndall Avenue
  • East Alameda Street between East Toole Avenue and Interstate 10
  • North Scott Avenue between East Pennington Street and East Broadway Boulevard

“We are hoping that a successful pilot will lead to a formal contract with the city,” Maguire said. “Long term, we will be looking to expand Park Genius to several cities around the country that have already shown interest.”

Participating meters are labeled with an orange and white Park Genius label on the front and back of the meter. It allows for users to pay for parking electronically, using their smartphones, with a credit card or debit card. Each participating meter displays a unique parking spot number. The same parking meter rates apply, plus an additional 35-cent convenience charge, Maguire explained.

“The purpose of Park Genius is convenience – no coins, no running back to the meter; quick, easy, saves time,” Maguire said. “If we can get enough people to sign up and use it the first time, there’s no limit to how successful it can be.”

Rather than standing out in the street counting coins, motorists can now pay for their parking meters in three simple steps, Maguire said. Users can open the app on their phone, enter their unique parking spot number and select the duration they want to park. Once the payment has been submitted, an alert gets sent to enforcement officers to let them know that a certain meter has been activated, Maguire explained. The time is not displayed on the meter itself.

“The whole process literally takes seconds and you can do it as you are walking away from the meter,” Maguire said. “Once you use the app and see how easy it is, you will want to use it every time.”

One of the app’s most unique features is the notification reminder, which sends an alert to the user five minutes before the parking session expires. While motorist can add time, the app does not allow motorist to exceed the time limit set on each parking meter. For example, a motorist at a 2-hour meter could start with one hour, later adding a second hour, but would not be able to add additional time beyond the 2-hour mark.

In addition to the academic training they received while at Eller, the students also had guidance from Emre Toker, mentor-in-residence at the McGuire Entrepreneurship Program, who advised them about the real-life practical aspects of what to expect and do.

Toker decided to make a small investment in the company with his colleagues through Arch Partners, an early stage seed fund for local startup businesses, soon after the co-founders launched Park Genius. Arch Partners has a special interest in companies that arise from the UA, and has no affiliation with the University, Toker said.

“They’re one of the great examples of how capital efficient, smart and effective student-launched startup companies can be in Tucson,” Toker said. “I think it’s a great example that we are very proud of.”

Top photo courtesy Thomas Maguire.