COVID-19 and lockdown has offered us a glimpse of what less car-dependent streets could look like. Air quality levels significantly improved, with more people walking and cycling. Motorised traffic journeys fell by more than 60% and, with that, parking needs also changed, with the requirement for some parking controls suspended.
The environmental benefits of these temporary mobility changes were significant, marking an opportunity to end our dependency on the car.
Viewing the road ahead, advances in technology offer us a way of managing traffic and parking in a fairer, more transparent way, which is more acceptable to the communities that we serve. This, in turn, helps ensure freer flowing traffic, while helping to reduce emissions. We are seeing innovations that guide drivers to their nearest parking place, allow the quick booking of parking places (on and off-street) along with greater investment in the EV charging network.
A range of solutions are being explored by the British Parking Association’s Positive Parking Agenda group, which is keen to change the conversation around parking through actions that bring more transparency and better standards to the operation.
Contaminated car parks
As we come out of lockdown, one of the concerns around the operation of car parks is machine contamination and adequate social distancing on footways or corridors leading in and out for pedestrians, especially in multi-storey car parks.
In common with highway works, it will be difficult to practice social distancing in order to patrol effectively in off-street car parks and other areas where crowds may gather such as schools.
In order to avoid COVID-19 contamination – given that parking machines could be a harbour for contamination, especially with coin slots, buttons, and tickets being handled by prospectively hundreds of people per day – it is essential to find an alternative means of payment such as a phone payment system. Other systems include contactless payment machines, online accounts and ticketless systems.
ANPR technology may be able to bring benefits to the customer as well as being able to automate processes to ensure payment. Automation in car parks would not require the same level of field maintenance as older technologies. There would be no need to provide and insure cash collections or protect machines from theft and vandalism. A change to electronic payment would avoid coin usage and avoid the need for cash collection.
One of the main benefits could be ‘pay after parking’ systems, giving people longer to pay on account as with road tolls – for instance, by midnight the next day. ‘Pay after parking’ enables customers to spend the time they want in the town centre without having to rush back to the car park to avoid penalty. They pay for the time they have used as opposed to having to guess what time they may need at the start of their visit.
For the parking service, evidence suggests that pay after parking technology can increase the dwell time from a car park on average by as much as 15%.
The digitisation of car parks has been ongoing for several years. There are many operators offering cashless parking payments either through machines offering contactless payments, smartphone apps or payment online.
Existing access control methods have their place, and are likely for the foreseeable future. However, we are now looking at how car parks can offer more flexible payment services that require little interaction from the customer.
Automated, frictionless methods of car park payment could offer several benefits for both customers and authorities alike. By offering customers a one-time registration to a digital system, such as MiPermit, this could enable them to have their parking stays charged for automatically.
This means that determining in advance which tariff a customer needs to purchase is less important and would remove the need to manually extend a parking stay – which may be overlooked or forgotten. Customers are simply charged the best tariff according to the exact time they have parked for, based on entry and exit times.
Such a system would also help support dynamic pricing, based on time bands, per-minute, congestion, environmental conditions, or other charging methodology. This would help customers to only pay for what they have used, for the environmental impact caused, or enable other possible charges based on air quality, congestion or vehicle emissions data.
ANPR systems can help to achieve this, as has been shown in some urban location car parks where this type of solution has been trialled against the stay time metric. The North Essex Parking Partnership (NEPP) is looking to trial this system, alongside all existing payment methods, and some innovative environmental metrics, in urban and multi-storey car parks in Colchester.
It is anticipated that following the COVID-19 pandemic, customers may choose to move away from using manual pay & display machines, as they are possible virus transmission sites. Simple, contactless payment methods are perhaps likely to become more in-demand for our customers as a result.
A switch to cashless parking through the use of an app could bring about a change in the way local authorities communicate with customers. Service messages could be sent directly to customers, perhaps on arrival or at other times and further benefits when linked to a parking account could be realised.
Research has shown the role of parking provision in reducing the adverse impact of vehicle emissions is not widely understood. Further consideration needs to be given when either setting or reviewing the parking tariffs as to whether the asset is located within an air quality management area.
Charging for parking should be seen as an environmental charge, especially if it can be combined with benefits to the customer, less emphasis on patrolling and penalties and a move towards Parking as a Service.
Richard Walker is Parking Partnership Group Manager at the North Essex Parking Partnership. He will be on an expert panel of local authority speakers for the Digital Services & Touchless Transactions webinar on 16 July. Book your free place now.
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