Older users ‘Un-appy’ as pay-by-phone parking gathers pace, says recovery provider

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Millions of mature drivers could be restricted from taking simple trips simply because they aren’t able to pay for parking, says vehicle breakdown recovery provider Start Rescue.

As local authorities increasingly move to ‘pay by app’ systems, pensioners who do not have a smartphone will find themselves high and dry at parking bays in the UK’s towns and cities.

The move away from cash and card payments has been accelerated by mobile phone providers switching off 3G data networks, on which some parking machines operate.

The London Borough of Bromley removed all its machines in April citing a £1 million outlay even though 27% of parking transactions were still conducted by cash as recently as November 2022. Brighton and Hove City Council is to scrap all of its pay and display machines by May 31 because it doesn’t want to shell out for the costly required updates.

In Harrow all card and cash machines have already been removed while other boroughs such as Richmond, Merton, and Barking and Dagenham are starting the process of getting rid of their existing machines, too.

Currently there are at least 30 different smartphone apps to pay parking charges. Britain’s biggest parking app is RingGo with 19 million users, but other major players such as ParkMe, Parkopedia, Just Park, and PayByPhone are looking to expand.

Most operate using apps but with some, such as RingGo, you can call and book your spot over the phone. There is still no way of paying by card or cash directly, though.

While the younger generation of drivers with smartphones may well be unaffected by the proliferation of parking apps, there could be millions of elderly people who won’t be able to pay for parking just because they don’t have a smartphone.

Data from Ofcom shows that only 68% of those aged 65 or over use a smartphone to go online. With more than 9.2 million drivers on our roads in the same age group according to the DVLA, that suggests there are potentially 2.9 million older drivers without access to apps to enable them to pay for parking. And with the UK’s ageing population, that figure is only likely to grow over time.

Concerns about how mature drivers will pay for parking have been raised by a number of organisations including the National Pensioners Convention.

Says Jan Shortt, General Secretary of the National Pensioners Convention:

“The drive towards digital-only seriously disadvantages millions of older people who cannot afford smartphones, tablets or broadband to get online.

“We appreciate it is more convenient for councils and parking companies to opt for digital-only payments, but cash is still legal tender, and in the Queen’s Speech the government announced legislation to ensure that the option to pay by cash must remain.

Adds Lee Puffett, managing director of Start Rescue:

“One might reasonably assume in today’s digital age that everyone has a smartphone, and therefore the ability to pay for all manner of goods and services. But when you consider that potentially 2.9 million people could be denied carrying out simple shopping trips because there is no way they can pay for parking, then it’s clear there is a problem. It’s not just a handful of people who will be affected by this.”

 The National Pensioners Convention (NCP) is a campaigning organisation for older people in the UK, which promotes the welfare and interests of all pensioners. To learn more about the NCP please visit www.npcuk.org

Launched in 2009, Start Rescue is an integral part of the nation’s fourth-largest breakdown and recovery service, Call Assist, which now has more than two million UK customers. For further breakdown advice, go to startrescue.co.uk.

Chris Price
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