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How to manage congregation in car parks during COVID-19

21/05/20

This article is the second in a series about parking in a post-COVID-19 world where hygiene and economics are of paramount importance.  To see our first piece on the use of cash in car parks, click here. This weeks’ article is about managing congregation in car parks to reduce the chance of person-to-person spread of the virus.


An increase in off-street car parking?

During lockdown, traffic levels in the UK reduced to 35-45% of ‘normal levels’. This reduction of traffic to levels previously not seen since the 1970s naturally resulted in a similar decrease in car park traffic.

However, with the government announcing a conditional plan to reopen society by easing lockdown measures traffic levels are increasing, and car parks are already starting to see an increase against pre-COVID levels.

The traffic on Britain’s roads is likely to continue growing as lockdown continues to be lifted, particularly as the government has stated that people should travel by car or other methods before considering public transport. Indeed, most of the councils that Hozah has spoken to are preparing for levels of parking higher than pre-COVID levels.

The demand for parking will potentially be felt more in off-street car parks as the BPA/London Councils published a report stating:

“It is highly likely that authorities will be required to suspend some on-street parking to enable them to widen pedestrian areas to support social distancing and/or to put in cycle lanes to support active travel.”

The increased demand for parking in off-street car parks, whether it be from the general easing of lockdown, the specific advice for people to avoid public transport or the reduction of on-street parking, will stress social distancing guidelines within the car parks. Indeed, during busy periods car parks may have some of the highest numbers of people per square meter than anywhere else in the country.

Reducing the risk of Coronavirus spread due to human proximity

To deal with the increased number of people present in the nation’s car parks parking professionals are considering how to adhere to social distancing guidelines. The most difficult areas to ensure social distancing are pedestrian entrances/exits of the car parks, payment points and information points.

A number of parking professionals, as well as many professionals of other industries, have used one-way systems and floor markings to encourage pedestrians to navigate public spaces in a way that minimises contact. This is likely to be easier for surface car parks with multiple, wide pedestrian entrances/exits to the car park than, say, a large multi-storey car park with stairwells. It may be that such multi-storey car parks will have one staircase for going up and a separate one for going down to reduce close proximity of pedestrians going in opposing directions on narrow stairwells. Therefore it’s important that the signage and wayfinding used in car parks signal people in such as a way as to avoid compact areas becoming overcrowded.

In our previous article, we wrote about the issues of using potentially contaminated cash and communal pay points from the perspective of touching services that contained the virus. However, pay points, be they for cash, card, VRM entry or a barrier-ticket operation, have an additional safety consideration as they are points for congregation.

Reducing dwell time at points of congregation

Queuing measures, such as markers on the floor 2 meters apart, can reduce the chance of pedestrians being in close proximity. However, this may be difficult in tight spaces of enclosed car parks as these queues clearly should not extend into areas through which vehicle traffic moves.

The best methods for avoiding close proximity of pedestrians are digital, such as pay-by-phone or a fully automatic system. Whilst pay-by-phone is better than cash,  the nature of having to enter a location code each time the car park is used may still lead to congregation around information signs to read the appropriate location code. One way to reduce this issue would be to considerably increase signage so that drivers in every single bay can see a location code from within their vehicle. This will naturally incur the costs of additional signage, however.

A better alternative is an automatic payment service where drivers do not have to manually pay for their parking on each use. This is particularly important at peak times when rush hour traffic could lead to increased risk of pedestrians being too close to one another. With an automatic system like Hozah, these people could avoid the chokepoints around payment and information machines altogether and simply exit the car park without having to do anything to pay manually.

Operators and councils should also factor in the risks around social distancing between their staff and between their staff and drivers. Cash-based payment machines need emptying, and payment machines and pay-by-phone options require enforcement against over-staying, etc., whereas automatic payments do not.

Car parking of the future

The changes made in the coming months will become the foundation of how operators and councils place themselves in the future of Smart Parking, and ultimately the Smart City. In our next article, we’ll discuss the digital transformation of the Smart City and how in which parking is a core component.

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