Changing lanes

By Peter O'Driscoll | 05 February 2024

Last year saw the Department for Transport (DfT) look to improve parking services across the UK with new policies. However, since most local councils each have their own parking strategy, this isn’t a simple task.

Councils must be aware of the proposed changes and how new parking innovations could bring multiple benefits to their organisation and motorists in their area. So, what are the developments and the advantages of moving to a new parking model?

Introducing the National Parking Platform

In response to parking concerns across the UK, the DfT has developed the National Parking Platform (NPP), a publicly owned technology hub that facilitates data exchange, digital payments, and a new way of delivering better parking and mobility services. In 2024, the platform is expected to move from its trial phase to a full-scale national rollout.

If adopted by local authorities, the NPP will revolutionise how digital parking services are delivered. Motorists will receive a simplified and improved customer experience from any location via their preferred parking app.

Local authorities could also benefit from the elimination of lengthy and costly procurement processes. The introduction of the NPP will also help raise the ‘digital visibility’ of car parks and on-street parking areas, increase the efficiency of local authority services, and reduce the cost of compliance management and enforcement.

The platform will standardise both technical and commercial interfaces, enabling digital parking providers to integrate their services, and access all available parking inventory, without needing to go through the current tender process.

The NPP will provide the foundation for an open market in parking, allowing multiple phone parking providers to operate alongside each other. This will encourage fair competition with lower barriers to entry for new parking solutions.

Are councils ready for the NPP?

To facilitate discussions about future planning and canvas opinions on existing policies, the Local Government Information Unit (LGiU) surveyed councillors and officers across the country in 2023. The results, published in its Parking Strategies and Innovation report 2023, found most council decision-makers do not understand the potential changes to local authority parking.

For instance, more than one-third (36%) of respondents had never heard of the NPP, with 44% having no awareness of the open market model. This lack of awareness led to almost 80% of respondents calling for the government to explain how the NPP will work in practice. However, this did not deter local authorities from being in favour of the new open market model. Some 44% of respondents preferred the idea of a publicly owned platform to a private-sector hub, with only 30% stating that their current procurement model for phone parking providers is cost or time-efficient.

The LGiU report revealed a strategy gap in local authorities that could prevent them from realising the benefits of the NPP and an open market model; yet, there is a growing appetite to innovate in parking.

All survey respondents were interested in getting better access to parking data to help inform policy making and 85% called for EV charging to be integrated with a parking app for a real-time view of occupancy – both areas that could be facilitated and accelerated by a transition to the open market.

The importance of the open market model

With an open market model, a choice of parking apps is available in a single location. This significantly reduces parking challenges and improves service resilience. This is already the standard model across much of Europe and had significant support from UK local authorities in the LGiU survey, with 83% of respondents favouring the use of a single parking app.

In the UK, councils in Manchester, Oxfordshire, Coventry and Cheshire West and Chester have piloted an open market model with great success. Manchester City Council became the first local authority to use the NPP in 2021, which resulted in greater app usage and expanded the rollout from five to 15 sites. Bournemouth, Christchurch, and Poole Council offered three parking providers for motorists to choose from in its new unitary status. With more choices for drivers to pay digitally, the council reduced cash payments by more than 30%, saving money on machine cash collections, banking, and machine repairs.

Choice and competition are vital to the UK economy, and this is something that should be reflected in parking. The pilot schemes clearly show that a national rollout of the NPP and a move to an open market model will bring significant advantages to local authorities and motorists. We look forward to the Government closing the information gap so councils can benefit from cost savings and less protracted procurement processes, while improving services for motorists.

Peter O’Driscoll is Managing Director at RingGo

This article is sponsored content for The MJ

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