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Should all car parks offer contactless?

04/05/20

Hozah will be running a series of articles about parking in a post-COVID-19 world where hygiene and economics are of paramount importance. The first is on the use of cash.

Since the arrival of Coronavirus, cash has come under significant scrutiny. It has become clear that banknotes and coins are an important contributor to the spread of COVID-19 and that the world will be exploring all ways to minimise its use.

Indeed, the World Health Organisation’s advice is to use cashless solutions wherever possible. Most sectors are heeding that call. Companies across the globe, from supermarkets to coffee, tolling to government departments, and everything in between are making the move towards cashless.  Costa Coffee is a prominent name among the many food outlets that have announced:

All stores will be cashless, and seating areas will be closed for customer use to help support government guidance on social distancing.

Cash: A Serious Risk

The parking industry is a significant contributor to the circulation of physical cash in the UK. There is obvious risk to the general public if forced to use communal P&D machines and touch potentially contaminated cash.

However, what is often overlooked is the health risk to council and private operator teams. These teams may have to handle cash collection and sorting, as well as machine cleaning and maintenance, both of which potentially result in mixing with the general public whilst on site.

Though most councils and private operators are attempting to reduce cash usage in car parks, their policies vary. For example, some have instigated policies of cleaning their communal P&D machines on an hourly basis. This is a positive intention, but has worrying limitations as a long-term policy. It is an expensive undertaking and, more importantly, it does not guarantee a hygienic machine unless that machine is cleaned after every use, which is clearly not feasible.

Others have placed hoods over their machines and made the move to fully cashless solutions already. However, it’s important that this move away from cash is not just a temporary one, as COVID-19 (and indeed other viruses) are likely to be around for a significant period of time.

Businesses are refusing coins and notes… now we’re warned Britain may be cashless in two years.

Should All Car Parks Offer Cashless?

Broadly speaking, there are three types of cashless options: Contactless, Pay-by-phone and Automatic payments:

Contactless, typically the presenting of a card next to a pay point to process a transaction, is a useful solution in many industries. However, this does not work as well in the parking world as the system requires a driver to input a VRM, meaning that the drivers still have to touch the communal machine.

Pay-by-phone options allow drivers to pay for parking using their own smartphone, thus avoiding cash. However, there are growing concerns about the cleanliness of people’s phones due to the amount they are used in public. For example, Professor Nigel McMillan, who is an infectious disease and immunology specialist at Griffith University, has advised people to consider their phone an “extension of their hands” and clean their phones whenever they’re used. Likewise, Apple has urged users to use 70% isopropyl alcohol wipes or Clorox disinfecting wipes. Furthermore, there are other issues around users of pay-by-phone congregating near pay points to read location codes, download apps, and retrieve location codes – something we’ll cover in a later article.

Automatic payments allow drivers to complete a one-time sign-up process, which can be done from a safe place in their own homes. These drivers are then able to drive in and out of enabled car parks, and their payment is made automatically without drivers doing, or touching, anything to pay for their parking session.

Taking Responsibility

The legal liability for Coronavirus transmission from terminals held on private- or council-operated land is not yet clear. To date, no one has been prosecuted for the presence of Coronavirus on communal equipment. However, we are still in the very early stages of a long journey with COVID-19, and there is precedent for organisations being held liable for the spread of communicable disease.

The general public appears to be moving towards cashless, too. Hozah prides itself on having a policy of open data, so we’re happy to share our amalgamated data with you. One of the trends that we have seen in Hozah-enabled car parks is a move towards increased Hozah usage. Whilst there was already a trend towards increasing cashless usage before Coronavirus, this trend towards cashless generally and Hozah use specifically has increased since the pandemic arrived.

With the strict period of lockdown likely to be eased in the coming weeks, it is important that the parking industry is ready to accommodate the demand for touchless payment options among drivers.

Indeed, it is our responsibility to encourage it.

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