Save, make, understand money

Household Bills

Fifth of drivers accuse councils of switching from payment parking machines to mobile apps

Nick Cheek
Written By:
Nick Cheek

Nearly one-in-five drivers have complained that their local authority has either scrapped parking payment machines or is consulting to do so, research has revealed.

As a result drivers feel they will be forced into using mobile phones apps to pay for parking spaces. A survey found that a tenth of drivers have already reported that some or all parking payment machines have been removed by their local councils.

Also, a further 8% of those questioned said that their local authority was consulting on removing parking payment machines. Most of the machines have disappeared in London, with 44% of drivers saying that payment appliances were no longer available.

The capital was followed by the East of England where 23% said that payment machines had gone, and in the East Midlands 22% reported the same.

From its research, the RAC is aware that the councils in Brighton and Hove, Bromley, Enfield and Harrow in London are all scrapping their payment machines entirely.

3G switch off leads to more parking apps

The RAC’s findings are driven by councils removing payment machines as many of the older machines rely on 3G mobile phone signals to function. Many telecom operators are now switching 3G off.

The third generation technology is now past its peak of use, with many unaware that 3G mobile networks are to be phased out, according to Uswitch.

The aim is now to modernise the 4G network and roll out the 5G network, which may leave consumers who have  a 3G-enabled phone needing an upgrade.

In turn, this will mean that councils will have to spend significantly on either replacing machines, or just get rid of them altogether.

As a result, drivers could have to pay for parking via apps such as RingGo or PayByPhone.

Older generation unhappy at changes

Those over 65 years old have voiced their concern with the current change of tack on payment machines. A total of 73% of the over-65s said they felt angry at the idea of parking machines being removed, as they believed they should be able to pay for parking  how they wish. Discrimination was also an issue as a fifth of drivers said that they could not use mobile apps in the first place.

This feeling rose to 30% of drivers who were over the age of 65.

Across all age groups only one-in-three said that they are comfortable with the removal of payment machines.

Nearly half of those asked said that they would drive to a different car park if it meant they could still use a bank card or pay in cash.

But a quarter said they would struggle find a convenient car park, a figure that rises to 38% for drivers aged 65 and over.

Impact needs to be assessed

RAC spokesman Rod Dennis said: “While for many people a switch to purely mobile phone-based parking payment poses no problems, our research clearly shows that for others it spells bad news. In fact, a majority of drivers across all age groups think getting rid of parking payment machines is a bad idea.

“Of course, cash-strapped councils will find it difficult to justify spending large sums of public money on upgrading parking machines which explains why some are bringing in third-party parking app providers instead – sometimes making parking charges even more expensive as they take their own cut.

“But it’s vital councils, and indeed private parking operators, carefully assess the impact of going down this route before taking machines away. Our research shows that by removing some methods of paying for parking they are undoubtedly making life harder for some drivers and possibly contributing to social isolation.”

What happens when tech goes bad?

Dennis added: “When it comes to relying on mobile apps, it’s also important to understand what happens when technology fails – for instance, in the event the car park is located somewhere with intermittent phone signal or if there are problems with the app a driver is trying to use.

“What assurances can drivers have they won’t be charged unfairly or handed a penalty for not paying, even if they have made every attempt to do so? This could open up a can of worms and could be very difficult for drivers to prove they’ve tried to pay.

“In the event a council still goes down the route of removing a ticket machine, signage should clearly explain what drivers need to do to pay to park and a phone number should be provided that allows someone to pay by card, without demanding drivers download and register with another app.”