Driven around the bend by cashless parking


Last weekend I requested FT readers to regale me with their experiences of navigating the digital parking superhighway, and was almost mown down within the rush.

Coin-fed meters are largely a factor of the previous as a result of basic decline of money (and the price of dealing with it) however even machines that take card and contactless funds are costly to service and keep.

Cash-strapped native councils are the largest suppliers of on-street parking. It’s less expensive for them to scrap meters altogether and strike a take care of one in every of a number of digital parking apps. But what if drivers don’t have a smartphone, or are usually not “digital natives”?

I used to be alerted to this drawback by way of a tweet from the journalist Pete Paphides. His 84-year-old father phoned him from a parking lot in a state of panic. There was no meter, and he couldn’t work out tips on how to pay by way of an app. The automated cellphone service to pay by bank card was equally complicated.

He requested his son to go surfing within the hope of contacting a human being and avoiding a parking superb. Some likelihood! Sadly, he died quickly afterwards, leaving his son to type out the inevitable letter from a debt collector.

“It does rather break my heart how difficult we’ve made it for old people to go about their daily business and how we terrorise them for the crime of not knowing how to download a fucking app,” Paphides tweeted.

The pandemic has accelerated the digital push, with all the pieces from profit claims to banking and GP appointments transferring to an “online first” mannequin. Yet not all people can sustain or afford the required tech.

Digital exclusion needs to be a rising concern amid the price of dwelling disaster. Connectivity in rural areas is one other subject (attempt paying for parking should you can’t get a sign) so we nonetheless want to offer “hybrid” entry to very important companies, even when this comes at a price.

However, FT readers had loads of different considerations in regards to the digital parking revolution. From the 200 responses I obtained, the largest gripe was the sheer variety of parking apps one must obtain.

The fragmented market means many readers want six apps to cowl their common parking areas. One reader had 9 (there’s one other subset of apps for locating electrical automobile charging factors and paying for these).

New face of parking: RingGo is the UK’s greatest cashless parking supplier © In Pictures/Getty

This takes up house in your smartphone. If you haven’t used a selected app for some time, it may get “offloaded to the cloud” or require an replace to be put in. This is irritating should you’re in a rush, particularly should you endure from one other widespread e-parking nightmare — sluggish obtain speeds.

Plenty of readers have missed trains because of tech fails in railway station automotive parks. “I feel they are just a mechanism to impose fines,” stated FT reader Martyn, smarting after being hit with a £60 penalty after struggling to pay.

If no precise meter exists, the back-up system of automated cellphone funds is clunky. You’ve obtained to register, punch in location codes, bank card numbers and your automotive registration (should you combine up the letter O with the quantity zero, anticipate a superb).

Some older readers instructed me they now not go to sure automotive parks — even sure purchasing areas — as a result of they’ve had such difficult experiences. Another stated her aged mom telephones her every time she desires to park, including: “I’ve turned into her digital PA”. One colleague had to make use of a parking app whereas she was in labour to allow her dad and mom to remain within the hospital automotive park.

Of course, there are positives about parking apps. Being in a position to pay in a number of faucets whereas seated inside your automotive is undoubtedly extra handy than queueing up within the rain for a machine.

Readers praised the textual content message reminders some operators ship (“Your parking expires in 10 minutes, click here to top up”) as there’s no have to race again to your automotive.

However, a number of savvy readers have clocked that these digital “add ons” come at a worth. “Why are the parking apps allowed to charge more than the parking ticket machines?” asks eagle-eyed FT reader Nigel.

He (and others) report being billed a “convenience fee” of 20p plus 10p per text-based acknowledgment or reminder. Thus, a £1 cost at a machine can generally value £1.40 by way of an app — though cashless options are supposedly cheaper. Why?

I quizzed Peter O’Driscoll, the managing director of RingGo, the UK’s greatest cashless parking supplier, about this.

The comfort payment is as much as the native council, he says. If they don’t need ratepayers to swallow the price of RingGo or others offering a digital service, they’ll elect to cost motorists 20p per parking transaction as an alternative (different apps do that too).

Even so, digital parking apps invariably provide councils and automotive park operators a less expensive resolution than corporations that present the pay and show machines, which explains why our streets include fewer and fewer of them: “That’s up to councils, it’s not something we drive,” O’Driscoll says (no pun meant).

At least RingGo’s 10p textual content alert costs are non-compulsory: “For most people it’s worth the 10p — better pay that than pay a parking fine,” he provides.

App-based companies could be higher for the automotive park proprietor’s backside line and extra handy for the tech savvy, however the analogue alternate options are way more inconvenient for these left behind.

Squinting as you punch your bank card quantity right into a cellphone keypad; queueing up within the publish workplace as your financial institution has closed; ready on maintain for ages to talk to a human being. It’s primarily saying: “You don’t generate enough profit as a customer for us to care about servicing your needs”.

The one exception to the digital rule is Nationwide, which pledged this week to maintain all 625 of its UK branches open till 2024 no less than. I’m certain this may win over extra cash-rich aged prospects, but when the income don’t comply with, what is going to occur in 2025 is anybody’s guess.

Assuming they’ll afford a smartphone, educating our ageing inhabitants is one other route. Three years in the past, 30 per cent of RingGo prospects paid by way of the “phone channel” however that’s now dwindled to eight per cent.

Converts embody O’Driscoll’s personal 76-year-old mom. With some assist, she has mastered the app and finds it a lot simpler than the pay-by-phone service (from what I’ve heard in regards to the latter, it’s hardly shocking).

But what in regards to the faff of downloading so many apps? In future, if the UK strikes in the direction of the “multivendor” mannequin widespread in lots of European nations, the piecemeal tender method may go. Local authorities or personal operators may as an alternative open up the market by offering a number of cellphone parking options throughout one space.

Further into the long run, you may not even want an app to park in any respect. Your in-car laptop system will merely flash up “Do you want to pay for parking?” if you pull into an area.

This seems like the peak of comfort. But possibly you’ll want your kids to clarify the way it works.

Claer Barrett is the FT’s client editor:; Twitter @Claerb; Instagram @Claerb