updated 6/16/2005 2:11:01 PM ET 2005-06-16T18:11:01

Drivers lacking coins now may use cell phones to feed parking meters in Coral Gables, purportedly the first city in the country to offer such a service.

The automated system allows drivers who subscribe to simply dial in from their cell phone, punch in the number assigned to their parking spot, and the required costs _ plus a 25-cent usage fee _ will be billed to their credit card. When leaving, subscribers call back and end the billing cycle.

The Miami suburb began offering the system this month on its 4,573 meters; so far, more than 250 people have subscribed.

"It's innovative," said Mari Molina, executive director of the Gables Business Improvement District. "People come down and they start meandering and they forget about their parking meters, and we certainly don't want them to get parking tickets."

It took Kamran Saraf six-and-a-half minutes to enroll by entering his credit card, e-mail, license plate and telephone number.

"It's pretty cool," the University of Miami medical student said, regretting the fortune he might have made had he invented this service. "I actually thought of that a while ago, 'Why don't they let you pay by phone?'"

PayMint, the Toronto-based company that offers the service, e-mails users copies of their transactions, plus allows subscribers to track their usage online. The service is already being used at several locations in Ontario and British Columbia.

Even when being used by PayMint users, meters without sufficient coinage will still continue to flash their "expired" signal. Parking enforcement officers use a wireless handheld device to identify which cars are using the system.

"There could be some minor impact to the number of parking tickets we issue," said William Carlson, the city's parking director. "But I think the service to the public far outweighs that."

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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