Friday, 18 December 2015

Pay by phone car parking

The battle to park one's car just got one step more complicated in Brighton. Brighton and Hove City Council, faced with on-street parking machines that have mostly reached the end of their life, and need an expensive overhaul or complete replacement, have decided to switch over to paying by phone. Paying that way isn't a new thing, but it's new to Brighton. Living outside the city, I hadn't heard that they were going to introduce it. Yesterday I was confronted with this in White Street, a place fairly convenient for the city centre, where hitherto I have been able to park up to four hours on a coin-operated meter:

The adjacent coin-operated machine had been sealed and could not be used. There was another one some distance down the road that would still accept coins.

Hmm. The one functioning machine left in use was a clapped-out thing prone to jamming. And it was a hundred yards away down the hill. Did I want to chance it? Leave my car on a spot I hadn't yet paid for, and dash two hundred yards there and back, on the off-chance of the other machine working?

I had never paid by phone before, and didn't have the necessary app installed on my phone. It would involve too much fiddling around in public, with phone and credit card exposed to passers-by, while I registered and entered my car and credit card details, prior to actually buying some time. I couldn't sit in my car and do it all from there, safely behind locked doors. I wouldn't be able to read the notice and the details on it. (That was Fiona, the dark blue car behind the notice in the picture)

Well, I scurried downhill, successfully obtained a two-hour paper ticket, panted uphill again, and displayed it inside Fiona. Now I was parked legally. All this had wasted time. I had a hair appointment at Trevor Sorbie. I'd driven into Brighton with a fifteen-minute time margin for parking. It had now melted away, and I was in my usual panic rush to be somewhere on time. I did make it, but only just.

Even so, problems remained for the future. This upper part of White Street had now been converted to parking by phone only, meaning that for the future I must remember that Fiona could be left there for a maximum of two hours only, not four as before. This had consequences for my Tuesday late-afternoon trips into town, to meet up with friends. Street parking was free after 8.00pm, and up to now I'd been able to arrive and park from 4.00pm on a four-hour ticket. But now it couldn't be before 6.00pm. I would probably be forced to give up tripping into Brighton on Tuesdays, unless there were a definite event to attend, not just a casual drink. Thanks, Brighton and Hove Council, for impairing my social life.

And in order to park on-street anywhere at all, in or near the city centre, I'd have to get to grips with this app. Sigh.

Hair cut and styled, I nipped into a pub - The Sussex Arms in The Lanes - ordered some lunch and a gin-and-tonic, and addressed myself to downloading the app and setting myself up on it. The promise was that once set up, the app would make paying for parking easy. Hah.

The Council use as their appointed phone-payment company. I took the precaution of looking at the Council's website and following the link to the right payment company, rather than just searching for it on Google Play Store. There are of course a number of different companies, all with similar names. It was wise indeed to take the installation of the correct app slowly and carefully in the quiet of a pub, and not attempt to do it standing in the street!

Well, setting-up went pretty easily, I have to admit. So I'm now ready to go. My first pay by phone parking session will be next Tuesday, when I have a last pre-Christmas drink with the girls in Brighton. If all goes to plan, I simply find a convenient space, fire up the app, and enter what I want.

Say I use the same space as yesterday. I'll need to enter my parking location (84878), the amount of time I want to buy (2 hours for £2.00, to take me up to 8.00pm), confirm that I am parking the car with the registration SC10 CUR and no other, and then OK all that. I should get an on-screen confirmation, and can then walk away. My credit card account will be charged, and a message will be sent to the mobile device carried by the Council Parking Officer, confirming that SC10 CUR has that space for the next two hours. And I can view the details of what I've bought on the app. In fact I will build up an online record of my phone-paid parking in Brighton, viewable on my phone at any time, which could well be very useful. The fee for all this is 10p each time I park, so I will actually pay £2.10 next Tuesday, not just £2.00.

There are two major refinements. I can if I wish arrange to have a text message sent to me, to remind me when the parking time is nearing expiry, which could be useful if engaged in Deep Conversation in some pub, but at 10p a pop it's just too expensive. So I haven't signed up for that. The other thing is that I can extend the parking time, using the app, without having to go back to the parking place - which is obviously a great convenience. I can't do it, however, if I have already bought the maximum parking time allowed.

The nagging worry is that the technology won't work as advertised. Either I won't be able to connect and buy parking time; or I can, but the message won't get through to the Council's Parking Officer and he'll give me a Parking Fine Notice. Apparently a Notice erroneously given can be rescinded, but that will involve writing to the Council with evidence of payment, and some hassle.

Do you feel, like me, that it would all be much more straightforward just to insert a few coins in a machine?

I know what will happen. Daily visitors to Brighton, who know what's what, will seek out the few parking spaces near coin-operated machines, because you can buy more parking time using a machine, in addition to the sheer convenience of using coins. People like me will be left with only the limited-time pay by phone spaces. The Council's multi-story car parks will still be coin and card operated, but they will now become much busier, making it harder to park there.

All of it will make visiting Brighton city centre harder, more of a mission than it is even now. It's never been a joyride to drive into Brighton. The blanket 20 mph speed limit as you approach the city centre may keep the traffic flowing, but only at a maddening crawl - and it's difficult to keep within that limit when you want to go uphill, when the car needs some momentum; and Brighton is a very hilly place. And now this latest decision to enforce parking payments by phone...

There isn't much that takes me into Brighton. Granted, the shops are good, the restaurants are brilliant, and I have my hair done there. I can, if it's a daytime visit, and I have time to spare, and the weather is clement, use the train. Otherwise I can see myself giving Brighton the finger. It'll be just too much trouble to go there.


  1. I have just checked the date, seems it is not April the first! How is a visitor from abroad going to cope with this nightmare? There seems to be an unwritten law which states that instructions for parking have to be several times longer and unintelligible than any previous set when machines are upgraded, ( obviously an oxymoron!).

    My nearest city has lost an incalculable amount of business since changing parking charges and allowed times, it is just not worth the effort. We used to regularly visit the nearest cinema but some idiot has decided that most start times should be exactly the same as the start of free parking, so exactly the same that it is impossible to visit without buying two hours of parking, even more frustrating when it is occasionally full!

    What a pain modern life is becoming!.

  2. My last encounter with Pay by Phone ended in failure in Cirencester as the number didn't work. Even paying by card only worked at the 3rd attempt, so I sincerely wish you luck with the Brighton machines.

    I see, though, that there's a Park & Ride in Brighton and you can use your bus pass. Free parking and a bus to dodge all that slow traffic sounds tempting, or is the park too far from you?

  3. I haven't got a bus pass, Angie. I opted for a free Senior Railcard instead, which is much more useful to me where I live.

    The problem with using public transport is that it's inflexible on where it goes to, it involves hanging around (possible comfort and safety issues there), is inconvenient if you have a lot to carry, and isn't especially cheap if you have to pay. The killer objection to buses for me is that the service thins out early in the evening, and that I don't want to wait for one after dark.

    So despite Brighton and Hove Council's attempts to make life hard for motorists, visiting Brighton by car still has overwhelming attractions.


    1. My experience of Park & Ride is that buses are fast and frequent. However, you are spot on about the service thinning out early in the evening, so not much use for you. I hadn't thought about that.

  4. I am doing a report on this subject. Your article is full of really useful information. I will make sure to come back to check out your posts for my next report. Cheers
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