Hundreds of Chicagoans are receiving tickets in error when paying their parking meter through the city's 'Pay-by-Phone' app

More than 300 cars parked legally around Chicago have gotten tickets after drivers used smartphones to pay with new mobile technology introduced by the company that leased the city’s meters.

Since the ParkChicago smartphone app was launched in mid-April, 317 cars have been ticketed that still had time on their meters, according to Scott Burnham, spokesman for Chicago Parking Meters LLC.

Burnham attributed the erroneous tickets to a “learning curve” as ticket enforcement agents become accustomed to using the new technology. He said the company is working to get employees up to speed, and added that drivers who are wrongly ticketed can get the citations voided over the phone.

City Hall spokeswoman Elizabeth Langsdorf said the problems stem at least in part from “connectivity issues” with the devices workers are supposed to use to check a parking database before they ticket cars they find without pay box stickers on their dashboards.

“This is something we're working with Verizon on — seeing if a change at the network level will help and potentially changing the enforcement device itself to see if a different one could be more efficient,” Langsdorf said in an email. "This is a transition issue and once resolved, should help to reduce errors even more.”

According to Burnham, 81,868 parking tickets for expired meters have been issued citywide since the mobile technology became available, meaning the “error rate” is below 1 percent of all tickets. The vast majority of tickets have been issued to people who used pay boxes rather than paying by phone, Burnham said.

About 8,000 meter payments are made each day using the pay-by-cell system, Langsdorf said.

The smartphone pay option was a key part of the tweaks Mayor Rahm Emanuel unveiled in April 2013 to the widely reviled meter lease brokered by his predecessor, Richard M. Daley.

The ability for drivers to add more time to their meters without walking back to their cars was part of what Emanuel termed “making the best of a bad situation” with regard to the city's $1.1-billion, 75-year deal with Chicago Parking Meters LLC.

The ParkChicago app was launched with a few hundred spots in the West Loop, and Langsdorf said it has since been rolled out to all 36,000 metered spaces across the city. Roughly 50,000 people have registered to use it, Burnham said.

City Hall paid $6.5 million during the past year to Chicago Parking Meters LLC for parking meters taken out of service, the Tribune reported last week. That's roughly $500,000 more than Emanuel's administration predicted when it renegotiated the meter deal last year.

Tribune Reporter Jon Hilkevitch contributed. 

jebyrne@tribune.com