Parking crisis averted, Pango app gets new legal lease on life

Users of the popular smartphone application don’t have to switch to its rival, despite a court decision last week

Parking ticket (photo credit: Flash90)
Parking ticket (photo credit: Flash90)

Usually not the stuff of courtroom drama, parking took center spotlight at Israel’s High Court of Justice last week and a crisis was averted as Israelis who use the parking app Pango Plus narrowly avoided becoming engulfed in a legal skirmish after the Court canceled an agreement Pango had with the Local Authority’s Economic Services Corporation.

As a result of the cancellation, the Pango Plus app, which tens of thousands of drivers rely on to pay for parking in lieu of finding change for parking meters — instead paying for parking using their phones — was to be rendered useless. But after some last-minute scrambling, Pango managed to work things out and is again to be street-legal for drivers, along with its parking app-rival, CellOPark.

At issue was a petition by CellOPark that sought the cancellation of the Pango contract with the Economic Services Corporation, which represents all local authorities in Israel, because a tender to bid for services had not been held prior to the signing of the contract. The High Court ruled that beginning Sunday, April 26, Pango could not be used to pay for parking. CellOPark, on the other hand, could be used for that purpose, as that company had signed contracts with individual cities – an arrangement which does not require a tender process.

Taking its cue from CellOPark, Pango also signed such contracts – and as of the weekend, had successfully done so with all but two local authorities around the country, the company said. Meanwhile, as a result of the case, which has been in the courts for months, almost all local authorities have also signed contracts with CellOPark – so now Israelis almost everywhere in the country have a choice when deciding which app to use to pay for parking.

Parking apps like Pango and CellOPark allow drivers to use their smartphones to pay for parking on the street (in spaces with blue and white curbside markings) and in parking lots. The apps connect to the municipal parking database, so parking enforcement agents seeking to give out parking citations to illegally parked vehicles “pass over” vehicles that have the apps running. Upon returning to their vehicles, drivers are told how much they owe, and the sum is added to their cellphone bill, to be collected later on by the parking enforcement agency or municipality.

The court ruled Pango’s “national monopoly” illegal, saying that exclusive national contracts needed to be opened to a bidding process – even though CellOPark was already in use in dozens of Israeli cities. In such tenders, cost – as in which organization can do the job cheaper – is an important criteria, but the websites for Pango and CellOPark show that both apps will cost drivers the same amount of money: The government-mandated parking tariffs are, of course, the same no matter what method drivers use to pay, and both Pango and CellOPark take a service fee of 40 agorot (about ten cents) for each parking “event,” or a monthly fee of five and a half shekels.

The reason a driver would use such an app and pay the service fee is the convenience. With the apps, users simply press a couple of buttons and walk away from their vehicles, confident that they won’t get a citation.

Pango and CellOPark make money each time a customer uses their app to park, but Pango has also added a slew of services using the same additional tariff model. For example, drivers can use the app to pay for gas; upon driving into a filling station, drivers activate the app, which determines their location using their smartphone’s GPS chip, and allows users to pay for gas in set amounts, thus saving the driver the trouble of swiping their credit card. Pango also promises no-wait exits from parking lots (also automatically detecting where drivers are and when they exit a lot), as well as fast car washes, and a flat-fixing service that allows members to have flat tires fixed for free (membership in that program is one shekel a month).

In a statement, Pango said that “in contradiction to several news reports that have appeared in the past week, Pango will continue to operate normally. We look forward to providing customers with many years of convenient service.”

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