British AA Telling Local Councils to Shut Down Pay-by-Phone Parking

August 11, 2017         By: Steven Anderson

On the surface, pay-by-phone parking, or a mobile payment system for parking, seems breathtakingly easy. Let the system guide you to a parking space, press a few buttons on a touchscreen or use a couple simple voice commands, and boom—the job’s done. Yet the British AA is recommending that local councils stop putting pay-by-phone parking systems in place.

Interestingly, research from the AA reveals that cashless parking machines are actually proving unpopular in the region, with two out of three drivers responding that they simply won’t use such services. Further, 70 percent of motorists were actually willing to pass up an open space that required pay-by-phone in favor of one that didn’t, and were willing to go look for one.

The biggest problem seems to be the nature of these services. Using phone or text message to pay is apparently a process that takes several minutes, and requires multiple steps. That led to the AA’s almost shockingly counter-intuitive statement that pay-by-phone was unwelcome and should be avoided.

Further complicating matters is the new one-pound sterling coin, a coin with 12 sides. While some area operations were considering upgrading machines to take the new coin, others were looking to wash their hands of the whole concept and make all the systems cashless.

The AA’s head of roads policy, Jack Cousens, noted “All providers should make it easier to pay for parking. Not everyone has a smartphone to pay via an app and not everyone is keen to talk to a robot to pay for an hour’s stay. For the elderly and low income drivers, pay-by-phone feels almost discriminatory.”

In this, Cousens is right. No payment process should take “several minutes,” especially not something like pay-by-phone for parking slots. This should be a matter of seconds with simple touchscreen controls. Plus, Cousens also raises a good point about the need to have some kind of system that isn’t strictly mobile-based in place; indeed, not everyone has a smartphone to make these payments.

There are other options here; contactless card or even just coin-based systems are all valid. No matter what system is used, though, it needs to be easy to use, or else it just keeps people away from the areas that need shoppers and patrons to survive.