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Working to a greenprint

RingGo’s Peter O’Driscoll looks at how parking will support society’s move towards more sustainable mobility

Peter O'Driscoll
10 May 2022
Peter O`Driscoll


Under the mantra to ‘Build Back Better and Greener’, the UK government’s Transport Decarbonisation Plan was published in 2021, highlighting plans for improving legacy transport infrastructure programmes by considering “how changing patterns of work, shopping and business travel might affect them”. From the series of ambitious transport pledges made by transport secretary Grant Shapps, we can see that the government has strong conviction its ‘greenprint’ will succeed in making travel much more sustainable over the coming years and decades.

In launching this green manifesto, the government has reaffirmed how committed it is to transport rejuvenation promises. And, as the UK carves out its own strategy separate to the EU, the document serves a reminder of the goal to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars in 2030, and that all cars must be fully zero emission at the tailpipe by 2035. For this to happen, alongside other developments, widescale technological and social changes need to occur, and in a holistic review of transport, we need to ask – where does something like parking fit into the picture?

For councils working on the ground, revitalising parking will prove key in making transport more efficient and sustainable. Well-managed parking can keep the flow of vehicles running through towns and cities, connect shoppers with retail centres and local high streets, and parking data can illuminate important information about post-pandemic movement trends. Through local systems and authorities, parking can create big and tangible impacts for the UK as we focus on going green.

Heralding the digital age for parking

Today, drivers are demanding the same digital convenience for mobility as they do for broader consumer goods and services. In observing this trend, the government has recognised that technology which is “increasingly automated and better equipped to meet user demands” will boost the resiliency and efficiency of transport. However, while the simplicity and convenience of digital solutions have done much to ease the stress of motorists, there remain frustrations.

When it comes to parking, poor UX (user experience) facilities, the arduous task of hunting for a spot, and a lack of payment choice are common pain points that feed negative perceptions.

To combat these challenges, customer experience will be improved through open data networks and digital solutions will be pre-built in vehicles. Integrated networks will power AI-enhanced navigation tools, providing real-time intelligence on parking availability, and precise locations to drivers via smartphone notifications or their own native infotainment system displays – with some models so digitally advanced that they could rightly be considered ‘smartphones on wheels’. This new breed of smart vehicle is likely to be equipped with in-car payment solutions. Today, motorists often must pull up, park, then access their phones to make a cashless parking payment. As more advanced tech becomes widely available, this sequence will be far more streamlined, with their vehicles automatically taking care of all the payment legwork.

Outside of parking, open data networks will equip customers with vital information about a range of services designed to build convenience into their journeys; electric vehicle (EV) chargers, accessibility for disabled drivers, and air quality information, to name but a few. This will meet driver expectations and result in a positive shift in public attitudes towards parking.

Welcoming competition in the parking industry

While the government has acknowledged that technology is “driving radical changes in transport, with profound implications for users and businesses”, keeping competition alive in the transport industry is what will ensure positive change continues to happen at pace. With parking, while the day of hunting for change to pay for a session is almost over, the friction associated with payment remains. Drivers expect digital experiences to be seamless, convenient, and intelligent.

However, the volume and variety of parking providers has resulted in motorists having to download (or re-download) multiple apps, enter payment details, and fill out personal information repeatedly. In many ways, duplicating apps is even more frustrating than having to dig out your last 20p piece. Instead, allowing multiple digital parking providers to operate in the same car park should be considered a convenient and strategic option for the coming year.

Competition is healthy, driving parking providers to up their game in ease-of-use and accessibility. Instead of navigating numerous different apps, a single platform will let drivers select the payment service they most prefer, streamlining and de-stressing the parking process. In addition, it is good news for local authorities too, as competition will reduce the complexities and costs associated with tender processes and vendor switch outs, while helping to drive digital penetration as parking becomes easier for motorists.

Welcoming EVs as standard

Around one-in-ten new cars in the UK is electric, with uptake expected to soar over the next 12 months. Encouraging the switch to EVs will be supported by the legal requirement for new homes and businesses to have an EV charger installed from 2022. This can only be good news, given the imperative to act swiftly on global climate concerns and end the sale of fossil fuels in the coming decades.

As a result, 2022 will see growth of EV charging stations across the country. However, there are still some barriers to entry for would-be EV owners. A lack of charging service providers is a concern, as is the limited availability of high-speed charging point infrastructure. The absence of competition and a joined-up strategy between EV charging providers could inhibit the rapid acceleration of the required standardised infrastructure.

Hand-in-hand with EV charging is EV parking. Can these two essential elements be brought together? Drivers want the convenience of ‘plug-pay-and-play’ options, combining parking with charging while they go about their business – without having to set more aside time to ‘top up’ charge. To make this a reality, a streamlined digital system is required which allows motorists to pay for parking and charging simultaneously. We already see this taking place in Scandinavia today, and it must be a priority for the UK over the next 12 months, as we seek to mitigate climate change through cleaner transport.

Supporting local recovery

With continuing concerns around COVID safety, many people are still wary of using public transport and prefer the comparative safety of their car. In our post-pandemic recovery period, while prioritising health and safety, things that discourage people from visiting our ailing town centres and cities must be reviewed.

Penalising motorists with hefty fines or inflated parking prices is a blunt tool, which can backfire. While they may inject short-term cash for councils, high parking costs and fines are a disincentive to visitors at a time when local economies need steady, sustainable income. Councils must consider this balance carefully over the next year while we continue recovery.

Keeping the flow of vehicles through towns and cities will help shoppers access the high street and retail centres more easily. This will be vital to get store footfall back up and keep local businesses seeing customers, with parking playing a large part in the shopper’s journey.

Promoting the open market in the UK

While it is been largely successful and standardised in wider Europe, the open market is only starting to make inroads in the UK. We have seen conversions in areas like Manchester, Cambridgeshire, as well as Bournemouth, Christchurch, and Poole. The open market is set to expand further, and this will help democratise data, with providers and third parties able to securely share and access important data to drive better digital services.

Co-ordinating the industry through National Parking Platform initiatives will improve the experience for motorists, while incentivising providers to innovate and offer the best sort of services. The open market provides additional reliability and efficiencies for those managing parking; there are several ways of implementing multivendor cashless parking, from integrated hubs, which support the widest possible parking, tariff, enforcement, environmental, and business intelligence solutions, to a simple multi-way enforcement integration.

Which option is best depends on local circumstances, the level of sophistication desired, and the answer to the question – how quickly do you want to get up and running? Open market offerings will also, over time, cut the internal costs of repeated procurement exercises. Once tender processes for an open market are complete, there is no need to carry out further procurement every few years, and this increases efficiency in the long-term.

Peter O’Driscoll is managing director at RingGo

Additional contributors to this article:

  • Morten Hother Sørensen, chief operating officer, EasyPark
  • Gareth Buchanan-Robinson, commercial director, RingGo
  • Andy Stott, sales director, RingGo
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