Platform: iPhone, Android
Cost: Free (not the parking though, obviously)
A few years ago I was in Miami and I found myself face to face with a parking meter and no change in my pocket. On the side of the meter, I noticed there was an app I could use to pay. A few minutes later, I was legally parked without having to scrounge for cash. The app was Parkmobile.
Since then, the City of Houston has added Parkmobile to most of its parking meters, particularly scattered around downtown. I can't count the number of times it has come in handy, both for paying and for adding time to an expiring meter.
Once downloaded, you add your car via your license plate and a credit card. The interface is remarkably simple. Tap the Park icon and it finds you on a map. If a meter that uses the app is nearby, it normally pops up, but, if not, you can type in the zone number or snap a pic of the QR code on the side of the meter.
Parkmobile gives you options for how much time you want reserved and shows the costs if it is allowed during the time you want to park. It will even let you know how much max time is available for that particular zone. One tap and you see your vehicle, time and payment method. One more tap and you are set. A timer begins counting down your time and you get push notification alerts as the clock inches towards zero.
Plus, you can add time to the meter (if it is allowed) right from your phone. If you've ever been in a meeting that ran long, this one should come in super handy.
Reserve Your Spot
Maybe the most interesting option is the parking reservation right through the app. Right now, the only option in Houston is Bush Intercontinental Airport, but even that makes a difference. Reserve a spot with Park 'N Fly and save the hassle of doing it in person. Hopefully, new venues will open up in the area because there are some pretty interesting options in other cities including stadiums and concert venues.
Travel With It
And speaking of other cities, the Parkmobile app works in most major urban areas (some have more options that others) and it includes both parking and even some electric vehicle recharging stations, a definite must when on a road trip or dealing with a rental car.
If you need to travel in areas that require parking (downtown, Med Center, etc.), Parkmobile is an invaluable tool to keep you from getting a ticket and help make the experience of parking in general a little easier. I may never dig for change in my car again.