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« Holding court | Main | Join us at the International Payments Summit on 21st March in London »

Free parking

By Dave Birch posted Feb 28 2011 at 6:45 AM

I've often mentioned that car parking represents, to me, the prosaic benchmark for e-money. Car parks are a straightforward and daily example of an environment where cash is a pain and e-money would be a better alternative. This is why I made a big deal of the fact that contactless payments never made it to my local car park, where cards have now been supplanted entirely by mobile payments. This is not true everywhere. I think I've mentioned before that on-street car parking is an obvious place to start contactless acquiring: no keyboard, no slot, low-maintenance, simple. Westminster started doing this last year.

From January and over a three-month period, 20 pay and display machines in the West End will be retrofitted with wave-and-pay card readers, so motorists will be able to pay car parking charges by waving a credit or debit card at a meter. According to the local authority, the project is intended to eliminate the need to carry cash around or enter chip and pin details to pay to park.

[From Westminster Council introduces contactless parking payments - 28 Oct 2009 - Computing]

I'm going to try find out what customers think about this approach. Franky, I'm sure they would rather use their Oyster cards, and here's one reason why...

The machines also incorporate a security function that requires cardholders to confirm their identification with a chip and pin transaction on a regular basis.

[From Westminster Council introduces contactless parking payments - 28 Oct 2009 - Computing]

Hhmmm. This means having to having both a slot and a keypad, which raises costs significantly, and annoys customers when the contactless transaction fails and they are asked to insert the card and enter the PIN. I'll put in a call to see how this went when I'm back in the office sometime. Meanwhile, the alternative apporach, of using mobiles, continues to gain ground, and it's not only in Woking that the mobile has trumped the card.

North Devon Council has replaced its Smart card facility with a more modern, pay over the phone system called 'RingGo'.

[From North Devon Gazette - Council winds up pre-pay parking Smart cards scheme]

It's not favouritism, although I have mentioned RingGo here before, but I can't help but notice that when I first went to see them (to interview them for a podcast) I thought that they were a company to watch. I'm actually one of their customers, because they operate the mobile parking at Woking station.

Councils, rail operators and other car park providers across the UK are ditching smartcard and scratchcard parking schemes in favour of streamlined, paperless RingGo.

[From RingGo Proves the Power of Paperless Parking]

I think I'll try and get some of these guys along to the Digital Money Forum 2012, as it will be useful to learn some of the experiences from the front line. Meanwhile, I can't help noticing that not everyone wants to remove cash from the car park. Take, for example, Wokingham council. It car park machines (according to The Daily Telegraph of 26th February 2011, p.4) took in £982,057 last year but only issued £945,417 of tickets. The discrepancy, as you might expect, comes from the machines that don't give change, a form of institutionalised extortion. Simply arithmetic reveals that hapless motorists are thus facing a 4% service charge for using cash. It's time to take action: councils should start making car parks cash-free as soon as possible and learn to cut their cloth. But if the car parks are cash free, and not everyone is using mobile payments, and the banks haven't issued contactless cards to everyone yet, then how to close the gap? Well, why not have local prepaid cards that function as "town cards" as well.

PXT Payments (PXT, formerly Parcxmart) an electronic payment solutions provider, today announced the launch of its new chip-based, secure smart debit cards, designed to create a safe, local currency that boosts consumer spending in municipalities nationwide. The town of Brookline, MA, will be the first town to adopt both Parcxmart and the smart debit card program.

[From PXT Launches Chip-Based Smart Debit Card for Cities, Towns, BIDs | Earth Times News]

I'm really interested in this kind of thing. It illustrates two points that I have been making for some time: first of all, it emphasises the role of transport in the evolution of new payment systems and secondly, it touches on the role of local parallel and alternative payment systems as a potential growth area. Fortunately both transport payments and alternative payments have their own expert panel discussions set aside at the 2011 Digital Money Forum so we'll be able to explore both topics in detail. (Coincidence? You be the judge!)

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