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DIGITAL EXCLUSION: RAC reveals almost 1 in 5 UK drivers FORCED to pay for parking via mobile phones

Updated: Jun 25, 2023

Nearly one in five UK drivers are being forced to pay for parking via mobile phone instead of using parking payment machines in their local areas, according to research commissioned by RAC.

The survey, which involved 1,900 drivers across the UK, found that 11% of drivers have already seen some or all of the parking payment machines removed, while 8% of respondents claimed their local councils were consulting on doing so. The study found that drivers in London were affected the most, with 44% saying machines have already been removed or are expected to be. The changes came as a result of some older machines relying on 3G mobile signals to function, which telecoms operators are beginning to switch off.

The RAC’s findings indicate that councils face either upscaling payment equipment and technology or doing away with them and asking drivers to pay for parking using a mobile phone app or by calling a phone number.

The study also showed that 59% of drivers were angry with the idea of parking equipment, and 73% of those aged over 65 said they also felt aggrieved by the proposed move. Moreover, a fifth of drivers said they felt discriminated against because they could not use mobile parking apps, and almost a third of those aged over 65 said they faced this problem.

About half (48%) of the respondents said they would instead drive to another car park where they could pay using cash or bank card. Meanwhile, a quarter said they would find it difficult to find alternative parking that was convenient, with that figure rising to 38% among drivers aged over 65. The study concluded that councils that ditch parking payment machines would face the risk of putting off drivers from coming to towns and city centres, as 19% of respondents said they would complain to their local councils or their Members of Parliament if payment machines in their areas were to be removed.

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. The move could also lead to lower parking revenue as a result of drivers being put off from parking in the first place, something that’s surely not in any local authority’s interests.

“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 be 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.”

The Levelling-up secretary, Michael Gove, wrote to councils in April expressing concern about drivers being ‘digitally excluded’ without alternative payment methods being in place. Separately, the Department for Transport is currently developing the National Parking Platform (NPP), a publicly owned software platform that would make finding and paying for parking easier for drivers confident using apps. In theory, drivers would be able to use a single mobile app of their choice to pay. Manchester City Council is already part of the project with more councils expected to join it this year.


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