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Global Atlanta_From Estonia to Decatur: Parking Meters and Trade (November 10)


David Beasley


If you are ever in downtown Decatur and run out of change for the parking meter, you will experience first hand the results of a trade mission to Eastern Europe that brought back tangible results.

Krista Altok Tassa is a first generation Estonian-American who lives in New York.  She took a group of businessmen on a trade mission to Estonia in 2006 as part of her work with the Estonian American Chamber of Commerce. She set up meetings with executives at Now! Innovations - a “digital permitting” company. It develops systems that allow customers to use their cell phones to pay for parking, tickets to concerts, public transit and toll road fees.

Now! Innovations was purchased in 2006 by Helmes, the largest software developer in Estonia.

Ms. Tassa was so impressed with the technology that she started her own company back in the United States, MobileNow! It uses the Now!Innovations technology in a new downtown Decatur parking meter project. Decatur is a suburb east of Atlanta.

Here is how it will work: A driver pulls into a parking spots with one of the new meters. A sticker on the meter instructs the driver to call a number on their cell phone. You enter the parking space number. You get two hours of free parking on this first visit.

If you like the system and want to use it again, you can later go to a Web site and prepay with their credit card. The next time you park downtown, you can call the number and pay for the meter out of your account. The company charges a 25-cent “convenience” fee for each transaction in addition to money for the meter.

Ms. Tassa envisions customers using this who routinely go to downtown Decatur such as Starbucks patrons or lawyers going to the courthouse. Decatur learned of the system through a consultant hired to make downtown more accessible, said Eric Groft, chief information officer with StreetSmart Technology LLC, a partner on the meter project. 

“It’s an alternative payment system,” said Ms. Tassa. When she was in downtown Decatur testing the new meters, Ms. Tassa was frequently approached by drivers using the old ones.

“I can’t tell you how many people came up to us looking for quarters,” she said.

Initially 54 of Decatur’s 400 meters will use the new technology. If the experiment is successful, Decatur will expand it to all of the meters.


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