Pay-by-phone parking

What is pay-by-phone parking?

In many places the number of on street parking machines or meters has been dramatically reduced and drivers are advised by sign to call a number, register and pay for their use of a space.

Cashless parking payment is now the only option in some places e.g. Westminster, which includes pay by phone or 'at machine' card payment.

In most places cash payment remains an option or scratch cards can be obtained from local shops and other outlets. The signs give clear guidance about what to do.


The main benefit, especially in expensive places, is that you needn't have the right money.

Arrangements can also be made to text you to remind you your parking time is up. Once registered it is an easy process.


People are concerned about their personal security – standing on the road using a mobile phone looking at a sign.

There is also some concern about the security of the system itself. You have to give credit card details by mobile phone to a call centre.

Another concern is that there are several different providers of the service and in London for example you may have to be registered with several to be sure of being able to park.

Currently registration is not interchangeable of transferrable.

What you think

In an AA/Populus survey of 10,112 AA members between 27 February and 9 March 2009 we asked:

Many councils now have schemes to allow payment charges to be made via mobile telephones if you are a registered user. How likely would you be to use such a system in your area?

Overall 59% said they were quite unlikely or very unlikely to use such a system (London 52%, South 56%, South West 60%, Wales 62%, East Midlands 60%, East Anglia 62%, Yorks/Humberside 60%, North West 62%, North East 66%, West Midlands 59%, Scotland 60%, Northern Ireland 50%).

To what extent do you think car park payment schemes that allow registered users to pay for parking using their mobile phones should eventually replace payment schemes?

Overall 2% said that mobile telephone car payment schemes should eventually replace payment machines altogether (London 3%, South 2%, South West 2%, Wales 3%, East Midlands 2%, East Anglia 1%, Yorks/Humberside 2%, North West 3%, North East 1%, West Midlands 2%, Scotland 2%, Northern Ireland 6%).

67% said that mobile telephone car park payment schemes should be in operation in all car parks, although it should be possible to pay using a payment machine (London 72%, South 70%, South West 65%, Wales 62%, East Midlands 65%, East Anglia 67%, Yorks/Humberside 67%, North West 61%, North East 63%, West Midlands 69%, Scotland 63%, Northern Ireland 64%).

25% said that mobile telephone car park payment schemes should not be introduced at all (London 20%, South 24%, South West 26%, Wales 28%, East Midlands 28%, East Anglia 27%, Yorks/Humberside 24%, North West 30%, North East 31%, West Midlands 24%, Scotland 27%, Northern Ireland 24%)

What we think of pay by phone parking

Opposition seems to be lowest in areas where schemes have already been introduced – especially London. Obviously this means that the AA can't oppose it totally, but neither can we support its wholesale introduction.

The AA is calling on local authorities to take the following issues into account when they look at introducing a scheme. This can overcome the inflexibility, mistrust and confusion that are the key concerns for drivers:

  • the removal of the cash option, as is happening in Westminster, is deeply unpopular. Pay-by-phone parking should be accompanied by payment machines for those who don't want to use the system
  • penalising users who have not registered, both local residents and visitors, is not only unfair but drives potential high-street customers elsewhere. These groups need to be catered for
  • exploiting the switch to pay-by-phone to raise charges and generate extra money for council finances betrays user trust. Councils should not do this
  • registration fees, cost of phone calls, mobile phone security concerns, price and zone signs, and communication problems are all potential sources of confusion that must be resolved
  • The Department of Transport should issue guidance to authorities in view of the rapid growth of this practice

Is mistrust justified?

That question hinges on the next step once phone parking has been introduced. The indications suggest that what starts out as a "convenient" system can soon become something else.

On October 1, Richmond borough council introduced "CO2 emissions based" pay-by-phone parking, having raised its car park and on-street parking charges 25% to facilitate the scheme. Originally, it planned to maintain the standard level of charges but add 25% to punish owners of larger family vehicles – even more of them than with its residents parking permit scheme. A council report forecasts £559,980 additional income from the new scheme.

In late July, both Richmond schemes were picked out and questioned by the House of Commons' Transport Committee, which concluded that: "If parking charges are to be used for wider policy purposes, these should be proportional, explicit and properly justified." Days later, Richmond council quietly abandoned its prized principle of punitive charges for larger vehicles and switched to a discount scheme for its public car parking.

To do so, it raised its 'standard' rate of parking charge 25%, discounting down for medium and lower CO2-emissions cars. With unregistered residents and drivers from outside the borough paying the standard rate, the council still looks set to achieve its target of half a million pounds more from parking.


"The actions of councils like Richmond undermine public confidence in new systems of charging for parking. Drivers are instantly suspicious of anything new and any hint of raised charges seems to confirm the worst," says Paul Watters, the AA's head of public affairs.

"Ticket machines keep it simple for drivers: they can see the cost, see the time and get physical proof of payment. If a machine breaks down, they can go to another. If the pay-by-phone system falls over, or if their mobile battery is flat or if they don't have a mobile at all, drivers are stuck. Pay-by-phone needs to be run in tandem with ticket machines, particularly in the early years.

"The Commons' Transport Committee pointed out that parking charges should reflect the cost of providing the service, but many councils find it too tempting to use parking fees as an additional source of income. In the end, drivers will vote with their wheels and go elsewhere, eventually leaving the council hanging on the phone."

Many may support phone parking because it is convenient. They may not when these more Machiavellian motives become apparent.

Join the discussion in the AA zone


2 November 2009