Starting next month Vienna will become the first major western European city where motorists will be able to use the service.

It’s called ‘m-parking’ and allows drivers to send sms messages to pay for parking minutes.

Users log onto a website with their mobiles and type in 30, 60 or 90 minutes, depending on the amount of time they wish to leave their cars. They then settle the account with their mobile phone invoice.

"Vienna is the first major western European city to adopt the mobile phone parking payment system," said Elysabeth Mattes, a spokeswoman for Austria's biggest mobile phone service provider Mobilkom.

"M-parking" was developed by the German company Siemens but similar systems have been tested or implemented in Scandinavia and some corners of eastern and central Europe.

The Croatian capital Zagreb was one of the first cities in the region to take to the new technology, through VIP-net, an affiliate of Mobilkom, in 2001.

The mobile service
has proven popular

But Vienna's 1.5 million inhabitants and 130,000 parking bays make next month's launch the biggest the system has seen so far.

"The Viennese were very enthusiastic when we did trial runs at the beginning of September, the technology proved reliable and there is nothing standing in the way of its commercial launch," Mattes said.

Siemens says its "m-parking" service promises to bring clients "convenience."

Mobile alerts 

"You can pay for parking even if all the news outlets are closed. On top of that, your mobile phone can now alert you when your parking time is about to expire," a spokesman explained.

"The phone will ring 10 minutes beforehand, and if the client is having lunch he no longer has to leave the restaurant to deal with the problem, he can just prolong his parking time by typing more minutes into his mobile."

Clients can choose whether they want to pay for their parking as part of their phone bill, have the amount debitted from their credit cards or run a special account with the mobile phone operator.

They can also print out their bills by typing in a special password on the "m-parking" website.

Mobilkom estimates that in the medium-term 40 to 50 percent of all parking in Vienna will be paid by mobile phone, even though it is more expensive.

Each text message will add 12 to 24 cents to the cost of parking your car, which costs upwards of 80 cents per minute in Vienna.

But in a country where 85% of the population have mobile phones, Mobilkom is confident that "m-parking" will spread to other cities after its 1 October launch.

"We hope that in two years all the big cities in Austria will use the system," Mattes said, adding that talks were underway on taking it to other centres.