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.

PayByPhone is offering cleaner and greener parking

PayByPhone’s Adam Dolphin talks to Mark Moran about how his role and parking have evolved during 2020

Mark Moran
14 December 2020
PayByPhone has developed a function called Extend-From-Anywhere
PayByPhone has developed a function called Extend-From-Anywhere
Adam Dolphin
Adam Dolphin

 

The need to contain the COVID-19 pandemic over the past year has changed the way we all work and travel. For Adam Dolphin, the personal development opportunities arising from taking on a key role with a leading parking payment provider has been overlaid with the challenges of helping the company and its clients deliver safe and accessible parking services.

Dolphin is sales director for PayByPhone UK, a company that provides mobile web, smartphone and smartwatch applications that enable consumers to pay for parking without having to use terminals. PayByPhone is a subsidiary of Volkswagen Financial Services and operates across the UK, Europe and North America, processing more than £430m in payments annually.

Diving into a new role

Dolphin joined PayByPhone UK in autumn 2019, after a decade working in phone parking and telecoms. At PayByPhone, Dolphin is responsible for growing the company’s UK client base in the public and private sectors. In addition to overseeing the UK sales team, he is also part of the company’s leadership team, helping to shape the company’s business strategy.

He spoke to Parking Review about his personal experiences of 2020, the way in which PayByPhone has responded to the pandemic, and how the cashless payment sector will evolve in the future.

How has the move to a new company and role worked for you – best bit and most challenging aspect?
It has worked out very well. I really enjoyed working with my previous employer, but I felt it was time for a step-up and a new challenge, which is exactly what PayByPhone has given me. The best bit has been leading the UK sales team to a record-breaking year in terms of new client acquisitions. It has been a pleasure to see my team grow and be so successful. The most challenging aspect has been lockdown and a shift to remote working. Of paramount importance has been making sure my team stayed fit and healthy, both physically and mentally, and making sure they stayed engaged and productive. It is a great credit to each of them that they have achieved this with great success.

What is the main personal and/or professional ambition you currently have?
My professional ambition is to be in a role where I am directly contributing to the business’s success – and at PayByPhone I am achieving that. Delivering over 40 new contract wins in 2020 has obviously helped and I’m also part of the UK leadership team so I can make a tangible difference.

As for a personal ambition, it is to become Hampshire’s number one BBQ pit master! I was smoking meats on the BBQ more over lockdown, but I’m not sure I’ll be in a rush to cook a whole brisket again; it took 17 hours!

How has working in a time of lockdown and pandemic been for you as a person?
It’s been good, actually. On a personal level, of course it has been difficult at times, especially not being able to see friends and family, but having a positive attitude and realising I am certainly luckier than many people has helped put things into perspective. Professionally, the pandemic has presented new management challenges, but we’ve overcome them as a team, and I’ve improved my management and leadership skills significantly as a result.

We remained very busy over lockdown despite our transactions dropping by 90%. We were contacted by a number of local authorities who didn’t have a cashless parking solution and who wanted to provide a safe way for their residents, visitors and businesses to pay for parking when charging resumed. It was great to be able to contribute to the UK’s recovery in that way.

Cleaner, greener and more efficient services

PayByPhone has developed services that make parking easier and environmentally-friendly

How has the PayByPhone UK portfolio grown and changed over the past 12 months?
We have experienced tremendous growth since the beginning of 2019, winning over 80 new contracts. Some of our new clients have switched from other providers but many, particularly since the start of the pandemic, are first-time adopters of cashless parking. Many local authorities have come to us specifically to implement a cashless parking payment system – and to do it as quickly as possible – as they want to protect residents and visitors, as well as their own council employees, by eliminating the need to handle cash or to touch parking machines.

What new services and functionalities have been brought to market in recent months?
Our established Rights and Rates feature has truly come into its own in recent months. It allows our local authority clients to offer free or discounted parking to selected user groups. It has the flexibility for them to manage the tariffs themselves, so they can change the parameters whenever needed. Rights and Rates has enabled free parking to be offered to NHS staff and, in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, to contractors working on Grenfell Tower. Removing the worry around the cost of parking means they can concentrate on the important work they’re undertaking.

How does PayByPhone assess the demand for/success of functions like Extend-from-Anywhere or Find My Car?
We are always looking for ways to simplify our users’ journeys and make parking, and paying for parking sessions, as hassle-free as possible. Our Extend-from-Anywhere feature enables drivers to extend their parking sessions remotely. This means drivers don’t have to worry about rushing back to their cars to extend their parking session, or to risk parking fines. Local businesses also see the value in this feature as people are more likely to stay around longer when they can extend their parking sessions from their mobile devices, or even from an Apple Watch with watchOS 4 or higher.

Our Maps and Nearby Parking features have been designed to simplify the parking process and make every stage of it as easy as possible for drivers. The Maps feature lets drivers locate parking areas before they leave for their destination and to pin their vehicle location onto the map once they have parked – this means drivers don’t need to worry about remembering where they’ve parked. The Nearby Parking feature instantly provides drivers with the closest PayByPhone parking location number once parked, so they don’t have to get out of the vehicle until they are all set to go.

Our Rights and Rates feature benefits our local authority clients, for example, by enabling them to offer free or concessionary parking rates to eligible drivers. This feature is proving particularly useful for NHS hospital trusts as they seek to implement the latest government guidelines on free parking to staff working night shifts, patients with long-term conditions, disabled people, and parents of children staying overnight.

Has PayByPhone developed and implemented any emissions-based services?
Yes, we developed our Emissions option, which works by carrying out a DVLA check on a vehicle registration number the first time it is entered into our system. This check pulls out relevant information about the vehicle and our app then automatically charges the associated tariff agreed by the local authority. This is currently based purely on fuel-type and was adopted by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in April 2020. It wanted a simple three-tier system that would offer a regular tariff to petrol/hybrid vehicles, a discounted tariff for electric vehicles and a surcharge for diesel vehicles.

However, we know going forward it’s imperative more diverse criteria are included in the system, such as CO2 emissions and the Euro 6 Standard. So, taking this into account, we are upgrading our Emissions option, which will launch in January 2021. It will be more comprehensive as it will allow our clients the flexibility to use any or all of the fuel-type and emissions-based criteria when setting their tariffs. The new version will also allow councils to charge visitors the same emission-based tariffs as residents.

Are clients looking to use PayByPhone as a permit system?
Ealing Council in west London approached us in 2019 to help replace its existing paper-based permit system. The number of applications for visitor parking for both residents and businesses had soared over the last 15 years and the existing paper scratch card and online session booking options were very time-consuming and complicated. The council wanted a solution that was quick, easy and secure. We worked closely with them to develop a bespoke addition to the PayByPhone app that processes permit applications in minutes rather than weeks, using postcode-mapping software. It saves the council’s parking team time and resources making the process much easier for the borough’s residents and businesses.

How is the tree planting initiative developing?
The initiative is developing better than we could have ever hoped. Caring for the environment and the communities in which we work is a key focus for us, which is why we’re so pleased with the success of our multi-award-winning programme, Meters for Trees, and our Green Christmas initiative which we ran in 2019. We are busy signing up new Councils to Meters for Trees and each time we do, we know that we are contributing to a cleaner environment by reducing carbon emissions here in the UK.

And by removing parking machines, we eliminate the need for enforcement vehicles, which would otherwise be on the roads collecting cash, clocking up miles and releasing harmful tailpipe emissions. For councils who sign up to Meters for Trees, we commit to offset roughly one tonne of carbon dioxide for every ten council parking machines on their estate through the Portel-Pará REDD project, which is a Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) audited project in the Amazon rainforest that combats deforestation, and by donating one tree to the council. Most recently we have signed up Aberdeen City Council to Meters for Trees. And we are very pleased as this is the first Scottish council to sign up to it.

How international is the company’s approach, and are ideas and services developed in the UK adopted by overseas divisions (and vice versa)?
PayByPhone is truly a global platform with 35 million registered users across the 10 countries in which we operate – Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Ireland, Monaco, The Netherlands, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States. In 2019 alone, we processed 128 million transactions. So, users who travel from country to country only need to register on one app to pay for parking.

This works particularly well for us going to Europe, and means tourists coming to the UK can use their PayByPhone account when they park in the Cotswolds, for example. For local authorities, our global approach means best practice and innovation is shared amongst our client base. 

We have world-leading cities from a transport perspective on our platform – Paris, San Francisco, Vancouver – and we share all incremental improvements with our clients.

The ever evolving payment market

Will there ever be totally cashless parking or is there still a need to offer cash payment alternatives, such as at terminals, in shops?
Cashless is certainly king, and it was moving in that direction even before the pandemic. Statistically, 1-in-10 adults in the UK is already leading a largely cashless life, with 7-in-10 choosing contactless payments. Since the pandemic began, cashless has seen a huge spike in popularity. But there are still people who will always prefer to use cash, or who don’t have access to a bank account. So, to remain socially inclusive, we have an arrangement with PayPoint – a leader in payments retail technology and services – to enable drivers to pay for their parking sessions in cash at any one of PayPoint’s 27,500 shops across the UK.

What is the potential to trigger parking payments using ANPR or geolocation services rather than manually via a phone app?
We are already there. In many places ANPR and geolocation services are the norm. We have an option called AutoPay, which we launched with NCP-managed Transport for London (TfL) car parks. AutoPay makes parking quick, easy and more secure for drivers.

When a registered user enters one of the TfL-NCP car parks where the system is available, the time their vehicle spends in that car park is recorded thanks to ANPR technology. The user is then automatically billed for the parking session. There is no manual transaction involved. This is great for users as it is completely hassle-free, they always pay the correct amount for their parking sessions, and it means they will never run the risk of getting a parking charge notice (PCN).

Is the pre-booking of parking, now common at airports, something that will become more common in general use?
In certain locations, yes, but I don’t believe this will be generally available anytime soon. What will become more common is the ease with which motorists can find and pay for parking. Working in partnership with our owners at Volkswagen Financial Services, we will be leading the way in space availability tools and last mile delivery solutions.

Is there potential for phone parking systems to also process electric vehicle charging payments?
Yes, there is. Work is currently underway to include details of electric charging points within the PayByPhone UK app as a first step to support motorists choosing to use EVs. This is already well-advanced in development and we expect this to be released next year. It will include real-time information regarding the availability of the charging point. The functionality in our app will be extended in successive steps to allow the cost of the electric charging event – together with any corresponding parking charges – to be paid in the same way as the parking session is currently. Not all charging points will be integrated immediately of course, but a systematic approach of rolling integration will be taking place.

How are phone parking services being integrated into cars?
Over the next few years, particularly with fully autonomous vehicles, we will see a true integration of parking services in smart or connected cars. Over the next two to five years we will see parking offered as a built-in function of these vehicles. The technology in the car will communicate with the parking services’ back-end infrastructure and provide a variety of parking functions to drivers, including identification of parking zones, parking payments and automatic authentication at barrier-operated car parks. These connected vehicles will also provide real-time information to drivers about parking, maps and accidents, rather like the information you can already access from your mobile device.

Is there a case for saying the UK cashless parking market is over-saturated?
Definitely not. There are still plenty of opportunities for growth in the cashless parking payment market. As we have seen, with the large number of people – 10% in the UK – opting to lead an essentially cashless life, and 70% choosing contactless payments, the trend was already moving towards a cashless life before the pandemic. And since the pandemic, the WHO’s advice against using cash payments whenever possible to mitigate the risk of transmitting the virus, indicates this is a trend that’s sure to continue – and we have seen this for ourselves, with 18 new-to-cashless local authorities signing up for our services since the spring.

Is there merit in concepts that allow more than one payment channel or app to be used – either on a limited basis or a completely open basis?
Multi-vendor systems exist and are in use in Belgium and the Netherlands, for example, where we operate. Whilst it is technically possibly to achieve, local authorities should ask themselves what they are trying to achieve by offering this solution?

In Paris, PayByPhone was the sole provider of cashless parking for several years until the Council moved to a multi-vendor model in 2018. PayByPhone has retained over 96% of the transactions and there has been no noticeable increase in the overall adoption of cashless parking – in other words users weren’t put off using cashless parking just because their ‘favourite’ solution wasn’t available. In fact, research shows that users can be put off using cashless parking by the complexity of multi-vendor signage.

The UK parking market has moved from a model of intense competition to a one essentially dominated by two providers – one of which is PayByPhone. We enjoy the economies of scale thanks to being a wholly-owned subsidiary of Volkswagen Financial Services. The other dominant provider is also part of an international group and this means we both can meet the low-price expectations of UK municipalities. And for UK motorists, having the two leading apps on their phone means they can enjoy the convenience of cashless parking almost everywhere.

Parking and the pandemic

How COVID-19 impacted on the phone parking sector?
The COVID-19 lockdown, of course, impacted parking, just as it did nearly every other business sector. But once we started to emerge from that we saw a significant bounce back; people were opting to drive rather than use public transport, and drivers wanted to avoid touching parking machines and handling cash.

Existing clients, such as Croydon University Hospital, noticed a marked increase in the number of cashless transactions since the outbreak of the pandemic. And in the wake of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) advice against using cash payments whenever possible to mitigate the risk of transmitting the virus, we have taken on many new clients – new to us and new to cashless parking – who have been eager to introduce a safe, cashless alternative to parking machines.

We have also supplied them with specially produced COVID packs, which included special stickers and stencils, to assist with the transition.
Hospitals that we work with have offered free or concessionary parking to staff and visitors since lockdown quickly and easily through our Rights and Rates feature. It has the flexibility to allow them to change the parameters as time goes on.

How has the company adapted its back office and front line working regime to cope with the pandemic in the UK?
The health and safety of our employees is paramount, while we continue to deliver the exceptional service our users and clients have come to expect from us. We quickly moved to a remote business model, as many other businesses did, in line with government guidelines in the Spring.

As a tech company we embraced different tech options over and above the basic platforms to keep the team working effectively. We also put in place some initiatives to keep things running smoothly and to help our team adapt to this new way of working, which have proved very successful since March. These include daily check-ins from the management team and focussing only on two-week sprints of work so people don’t get overburdened.

We have also worked very hard to maintain our team spirit and our company culture. Some of the initiatives have included a music club, and something called ‘Donut Buddies’ where team members are randomly paired up on the Slack communication platform – they meet virtually for a “coffee and a donut”, and chat about things unrelated to work. These things may all sound very simple, but they have allowed us to maintain our sense of office camaraderie even though we aren’t all sitting next to each other.

 
 
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