Monthly journal Parking Review has been the definitive source of news and intelligence on the UK and international public and private parking sectors since 1989.

Solving the cashless dilemma

Is the world ready to go cashless?

Alastair Finlayson
12 March 2020
Alastair Finlayson
Alastair Finlayson


Cashless parking apps are on the rise, with more and more providers entering the market, and established cashless parking players adding regular updates to stay ahead of the curve. With the parking market pushing cashless solutions more than ever, we need to ask ourselves: are we ready to say goodbye to cash and go completely cashless?

It is becoming increasingly common for local councils and private operators to channel motorists to a cashless parking solution. We’ve seen coin slots blocked, so payment machines only accept card payments, and we’ve also seen entire payment machines removed and replaced with ‘pay by mobile’ signage. Although cashless parking might be convenient for motorists who do not carry cash and are familiar with such systems, channeling everyone to a cashless payment system can be a major inconvenience to those who don’t carry cards or mobiles, or people who still prefer to use cash.

The parking industry is very good at developing innovations that make the parking experience as easy as possible. While this is great for users who are regularly exposed to technology and those ready to embrace it, it is worth asking the question: “Is the industry too far ahead of the large numbers of end-users who are still attached to old behaviours?”

Leave no one behind
The claim that “everyone has a smartphone these days” might be made by those looking to abolish cash payments, but this is not the reality. And even people who have smartphones don’t always adopt the cashless option. We still see thousands of pounds pass through payment kiosks on a weekly basis.

This debate not only resonates from a parking perspective, but can be seen in a wider consumer standpoint, as evidenced by the use of cash at self-service checkouts at supermarkets, travel card machines and vending machines.

We still see motorists who prefer to pay for their parking using traditional methods such as cash. There are those who shy away from using an app to pay for parking. Indeed, there are still users uncertain about using a pay & display machine that requires them to enter their vehicle registration.

Although cashless solutions are on the rise with the increased adoption of smartphone technology and contactless payments, we should be mindful that not everyone has access to – or wants to use – these methods or payment technologies.

As an industry, we should be doing everything in our power to provide a positive parking experience for all users. This means making digital cashless systems as user-friendly as possible, whilst still accepting more traditional payment methods like cash to ensure that all drivers are able to pay.

Greener parking
The parking sector needs to consider the environmental impact of what we do, and look at ways to reduce our carbon footprint. This is a way in which cashless parking can be pitched as a positive development.

Payment machines require equipment and materials from factories producing carbon emissions and the thermo paper ticket roll, which cannot be made from recycled paper. There is also maintenance of the machines to consider, in the form of cash collections and ticket roll replenishment, which require additional frequent visits from vehicles consuming fuel and putting out carbon emissions.

While payment kiosks increase our carbon footprint, various cashless app providers have introduced initiatives to give back to the planet, through tree-planting schemes and litter-picking in forests. Given these factors, moving to more cashless based parking systems would seem to be a natural progression for the industry.

The pace of change
But along with the higher uptake of automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras, and more pay-on-exit systems appearing, all this technology can become very overwhelming for motorists. Only five years ago, common practice was to pay at the machine using coins and display a ticket in the windscreen of the vehicle. In a short period of time, this has been flipped on its head.

Expecting motorists to enter their vehicle registration into a system before leaving and pay for a duration the machine displays, instantly and digitally, is great progress for the industry – but we must consider the average motorist who isn’t familiar or comfortable with the newest parking innovations.

While great technological and entrepreneurial minds are driving new developments and the parking market is clearly moving in an innovative direction, the industry should still cater for motorists who don’t take to these technologies immediately. In reviewing cashless versus cash payment methods of parking, the comfortable familiarity of old ways should not be ignored. We should explore how they can operate alongside innovative methods of payment until we are all ready to go completely cashless. An easy transition, in which motorists feel supported and have choices, means a win-win situation for all.

Alastair Finlayson is the head of site and project management at Gemini Parking Solutions. Listen to his thoughts on parking issues on the Brake the Mould podcast.

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Buckinghamshire Council
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Oxfordshire County Council
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