ParkMe app offers more info than you might have thought

All right, I’ll say it. I didn’t like the ParkMe app the city of Las Vegas rolled out last month.

It didn’t make sense that all I could see were spaces within the parking garages of the downtown resorts and not vacant street parking places.

But after talking with Brandy Stanley, the city’s parking services manager for the past 3½ years and someone who has worked in parking management for 23 years, I realized that I wasn’t using every feature of the app, which is available as a free download for iPhone and Android smartphone users.

And that’s really the secret of ParkMe.

You have to open it a few times and explore it and you’ll find all kinds of information about parking that you never knew was available.

By the way, the ParkMe applications were part of a package deal the city got when it installed those new parking meters that take credit and debit cards, so there was no additional financial outlay for the technology.

The most important thing to understand about ParkMe is that even though it’s a real-time guide to finding open parking spaces downtown, it doesn’t use sensors to pinpoint a vacant spot. Instead, it uses a predictive algorithm to determine where open spaces are most likely to be.

“It doesn’t make sense to look online for an open space that isn’t likely to be open by the time you get there,” Stanley said. “What this provides is a snapshot that can help motorists make good decisions.”

Besides, San Francisco tried a sensor-based parking app that didn’t work because of interference in the data from nearby utility lines.

Stanley recommends downloading the app or visiting and spending some time getting familiar with it before regularly using it as a tool to find open parking.

I suggest going online because the website is easier to maneuver. Once familiar with some of the features, make your way over to the phone app.

Signing up is free and easy. At the site, you’ll be asked, “Where are you going?” There are several Las Vegas entries, including the Strip and downtown.

There are links to reserve parking daily or monthly by date. There’s also a link to Google maps with an overlay of color-coded bubbles that pinpoint parking locations. Each bubble lists the hourly cost to park; the colors designate availability of spaces.

Green means it’s pretty easy to find a space. Orange means there’s a fairly good chance you’ll find a space. Red means good luck finding a space.

There’s also a way to reserve and pay for parking in advance, but that might be too far advanced for a beginning user for now.

Click on one of the bubbles and you’ll get an information box that provides even more details. The exact street address pops up and, in some cases, a phone number to the manager of the lot. Drill down even further and you’ll see where the entrances to the parking garages are located.

In her 23 years in the industry, Stanley has kept up with the technology and the ParkMe app will be undergoing some upgrades as early as this week.

She said in the weeks ahead, ParkMe will tie in some parking garage space availability numbers that are common in some of the more recently built garages. Stanley said she and ParkMe will test the data feed and if the system works as expected it will be expanded to include more garages.

Another bonus of the ParkMe app is that the service is available in other cities nationwide. That can be particularly handy for road warriors who travel afar for business or pleasure.

As for the smartphone app, it’s important to note that using a phone while driving is unsafe.

In the past week, law enforcement officials reminded us of the dangers of distracted driving and using a phone while driving a car, calling it a recipe for disaster.

Remarkably, all of us see drivers making phone calls or texting while driving.

A recent AAA study showed that even using hands-free devices is distracting to drivers. The study’s results show that listening to the radio is a minor risk, using a hands-free device for a phone call is a moderate risk, using a speech-to-text system to compose emails is an extensive risk and using menu-driven systems that rely on voice recognition is the highest risk.

Last week, several students from Sierra Vista High School took a pledge to put down their cellphones and focus on the road as part of a campaign called “X the TXT” presented by Health World in conjunction with the Allstate Foundation.

Allstate also brought its “Reality Rides” simulator to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas for students to learn how distracting certain activities can be while driving a car.

So the big takeaway is that if you use the ParkMe app on your smartphone, take a look at it before driving — not while driving.

Better yet, look at the ParkMe website before getting in the car to get the details you need to find a place to park at your destination.

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