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All aboard the National Parking Platform

The Department for Transport is encouraging local authorities, operators and payment service providers to join the National Parking Platform

Mark Moran
13 March 2024
The National Parking Platform

 

Pay-by-phone and pay-by-app services have been a growing part of the parking ecosystem since the 2000s. Users appreciate the opportunity to pay without cash and without having to visit a machine. However, when these services first emerged, no effort was made to organise how they worked together.

As a result, the system has been organised through a series of procurements by local authorities and others. This means councils tend to be tied to a single app by contract and drivers travelling around the country must contend with multiple apps. This is set to change. The act of paying for parking by app will become simpler for motorists if the Department for Transport (DfT) fulfils its ambition of launching the National Parking Platform (NPP) this autumn.

The platform is not an app, but a hub that makes every participating app work for every participating parking space. The NPP will allow drivers paying for parking to use their choice of app rather than whatever app with which the parking provider has signed an exclusive contract. The NPP aims to improve the customer journey across the full range of on-street and off-street parking. This publicly owned platform is open to public and private parking operators as well as service providers.

Customers will be able to locate suitable parking for their journey, check tariff and availability, pre-book a space and make payment through the NPP, before starting their journey, or modify that journey as conditions change to use alternative parking.

Advocates of the National Parking Platform argue that it will provide the foundation for an open market which allows multiple phone parking providers to operate alongside each other. It is hoped that will encourage competition and enable motorists to choose their preferred parking app.

Micheal Dnes, head of future roads technology at the Department for Transport, said: “The existing system increased the popularity of cashless payments, but it was never designed to work together. There was a realisation that, with the NPP, we could ease a lot of drivers’ frustration with mobile payment. There is an added value for local authorities and service providers because they will not have to go through protracted procurement processes.

“The NPP allows service providers to be quite different companies in how they work. For example, they could develop an app that allows disabled people to park more easily up and down the country, which is the kind of thing that is only really possible when you join the market together.”

How the NPP works

Currently, contracts for pay-by-app services fix how much each local authority and service operator can make from each parking transaction. The move to the NPP replaces this direct relationship with an open market. Based on conversations with councils, the NPP team at the DfT understands that the top priority of local authorities is control and stability of revenue. The NPP records the numbers and values of transactions and manages payments. Local authorities will receive their revenues in a regular single payment consolidating what different service providers owe.

Local authorities will set a ‘wholesale price’ that all apps must pay to use the parking. The question of how this relates to an on-street price would be for the local authority to decide. The NPP charges a small fixed fee to cover its costs. Apps can charge a convenience fee to their customers as they judge fit in the context of what will be a competitive market.

The NPP will charge a fee of approximately 2p per transaction, which is expected to be offset against wider market efficiencies.

Launching the NPP

Transport secretary Mark Harper announced that the NPP would be live by autumn 2024 when announcing his Plan for Drivers at last year’s Conservative Party conference.

The National Parking Platform has been in development for a number of years. The Department for Transport has backed a series of pilot projects coordinated by consultancy Parking Matters. The pilots have tested the platform concept in partnership with a number of local authorities, private parking operators and a variety of payment service providers.

In order to work, the platform now requires parking providers to sign up. To encourage adoption of the scheme, the Department for Transport has waived the £10,000 joining fee for any local authority that registers its interest in joining the NPP by 31 March. The DfT’s Micheal Dnes said: “Making an expression of interest is essentially agreeing to join the NPP mailing list so that the department knows who to get in touch with. There is no obligation to join off the back of that, and no pressure to have anything in place by a given time.

“The financial model of the NPP is based around the transaction fees paid by users. As a local authority coming on to the system for cashless parking, there isn’t a bill to pay. It all gets worked out before it reaches the balance sheet.”

There are three different levels of membership: ‘early access’, ‘full’ and ‘associate’. These have been built around a recognition that local authorities are in different places with regards to contracts held with cashless parking service providers.

“Some local authorities are raring to go. Early access membership is designed for them because we can get them up and running as quickly as possible using their existing systems, similar to what we have done with the pilot projects,” continued Dnes.

“Full membership is for those that wish to sign up to the NPP when we have the complete national platform functionality later this year. The third level is associate membership for councils looking into a contract, so they can still access some of the benefits, such as getting their data into the system, and can be ready to switch to the full system when they are ready.”

By the start of February some 162 local authorities out of the UK-wide total of 382 had expressed an interest. Private parking operators are also being encouraged to join the platform. Five payment service providers are reported to have signed up, as have a number of back office provid

Membership levels

  • Early access membership: Designed for parking providers wanting immediate access, especially if an existing contract is ending. Early access allows immediate unlocking of NPP services (including multi-vendor payment) through existing technical systems and contractual structures. This system converts automatically to full membership once it is available.
  • Full membership: Intended for parking providers wanting to offer multi-vendor cashless payment through the NPP from late 2024 onwards. This provides all NPP cashless parking services.
  • Associate membership: Designed for parking providers locked into an exclusive contract but eager to leverage some NPP features. Associated members share parking data through the NPP, receive standard location codes for parking sites and are prepared for full membership without further technical set-up when the time comes.

Putting the NPP on the map

With the UK government planning to introduce the National Parking Platform this year, so the Department for Transport is currently building an infrastructure that enables systems tested in the pilots to operate at the scale required to manage the nation’s parking. The NPP pilots built and tested the links necessary to make the NPP function.

Having started in central Manchester in 2021, the NPP pilot has now rolled out to further locations to confirm that the concept is able to scale up. The local authorities which have piloted or signed up for the platform so far include Manchester, Buckinghamshire, Cheshire West and Chester, Coventry, Peterborough, Oxfordshire, Sutton and Walsall.

Over 125,000 parking transactions are now handled through the pilot every month using four parking payment apps.

Beyond parking

The NPP is an ecosystem that extends to parking enforcement providers who ensure compliance with regulations, equipment manufacturers who are integrating payment systems to enable pay on arrival and departure and data analyst looking to use the feeds from the pilots to create new dashboards and toolkits.

The NPP’s first task is to simplify cashless parking, but its infrastructure is designed to do more, says the DfT. Future phases of development are expected to include EV charging, managing residents’ parking, or a one-stop-shop for drivers paying existing road tolls or charges, without having to struggle with new apps or accounts every time.

The government says this lays the groundwork for future vehicles to handle parking payments for themselves, paving the way to truly effortless parking. Because the National Parking Platform brings data and information together, the DfT predicts that it could also support local traffic management functions and provide live information on matters such as parking availability.
https://npp.org.uk

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