Council chiefs are to look again at how drivers pay for parking after Conservative and Green councillors joined forces in response to a petition.
The petition called for scratchcard parking vouchers to be brought back after complaints about the switch to pay-by-phone parking machines.
The vouchers were scrapped by the Conservatives in 2008 on cost grounds.
Some people, such as those with arthritis or hearing difficulties, find the new system hard to use while others have complained about mobile phone signal problems.
Pay-by-phone parking machines were first brought in three years ago when Brighton and Hove City Council had almost 1,200 on-street parking machines that took cash.
More than 300 cash parking machines have been removed, taking the total remaining down to 800. And the number is to fall to just 150 by next March when the new £1 coin comes into circulation.
The 12-sided coin is being introduced to combat the growing number of fake coins. A significant number of fake £1 coins are believed to have been imported from a counterfeiters’ mint in the Netherlands by a company called Coin Co International (CCI). Dutch fraud investigators have been looking into the matter.
CCI also held the contract to collect cash from the council’s parking machines until two years ago. The company went bust owing the council more than £3 million just months after being fined C$150,000 by a Canadian watchdog, Fintrac, for breaching money laundering and terrorist financing legislation.
Councillors were told that it was not technically possible to upgrade all of the council’s parking machines to take the new £1 coin.
Instead the council is to buy 320 card-only pay and display machines and upgrade 330 existing pay and display machines to accept card payments only.
In total 150 of the newer pay and display machines will be upgraded to take the new £1 coins and card payments.
In addition to the losses caused by the collapse of CCI, councillors were recently told that £150,000 had been stolen from parking machines since 2008.
From January to March this year thieves tried 51 times to steal cash from parking machines, making off with almost £15,000 over the three months. The council also pointed out that money had then been spent repairing or replacing the machines.
The new combination of card and cash machines will cost more than £1.8 million – significantly more than just upgrading existing machines. But the council says that maintenance will be cheaper as will cash collection by the new contractor BDI Securities UK.
When the new arrangements were decided at a recent meeting of the council’s Policy, Resources and Growth Committee, Councillor Andrew Wealls called for a move to dynamic parking.
The concept is being tried in parts of Los Angeles and San Francisco, with prices rising or falling depending on demand. In San Francisco, sensors in parking bays feed live information to drivers through apps or sat nav to help them find a parking space. As a result drivers spend less time cruising around looking for somewhere to park, burn less fuel and pollute less.
Despite a recent national award for innovation in parking management, Brighton and Hove is unlikely to have a similar system any time soon.
Instead it was back to the future when the full council met at Brighton Town Hall last Thursday (21 July).
More than 1,700 people signed an online petition and more than 300 others signed a paper petition urging the council “to reintroduce scratch card voucher parking alongside the new pay-by-phone system to give residents and visitors a genuine choice over how they pay for parking”.
The lead petitioner, Councillor Vanessa Brown, said in a supporting paragraph: “A significant proportion of the city’s residents and visitors are experiencing difficulties due to the increased use by the council of pay-by-phone parking.
“This particularly affects many elderly people and those without, or who have difficulty using, mobile phones.
“To make their life easier we would like to see the reintroduction of scratchcard vouchers as a means of paying for parking in the city.”
The Conservative councillor told the meeting: “This online petition has attracted a very large number of signatures and on top of that we have a paper petition with an extra 315 signatures, which makes a total of over 2,000 and this shows the strength of feeling about this issue across the whole of the city.
“Many people, especially the elderly, do not have a mobile phone and many people, both young and old, find the present system particularly confusing.
“There are very few coin-operated machines available now and it then becomes ‘hunt the nearest machine and hope you have the required number of coins available’ when you actually find it.
“This is no fun if you are at all infirm or if it is dark and pouring with rain.
“We understand the council have plans to buy new machines that will accept credit or debit cards.
“This will help some people but many are reluctant to use their cards in these sorts of machines and there are still the problems associated with actually finding a machine in the first place.
“Not only is this very trying for the person attempting to park but it is increasingly causing problems for our shopkeepers.
“Many motorists are now only stopping at places where it’s still free to park, and there are not many of these left, or going to other towns where it’s both cheaper and easier to park. This is becoming detrimental to the local economy.
“If people could buy books of scratch cards in different monetary denominations as they used to be able to, it would mean they could always carry them in the car and just show they have paid by putting the required number in the front windscreen.
“This has to be an easier and cheaper solution and we really hope the Environment, Transport and Sustainability Committee will see the sense in this and endorse it.
“There are far too many dissatisfied residents in this city at the present time and we should be doing everything we can to help them.”
Councillor Gill Mitchell, who chairs the Environment, Transport and Sustainability Committee, resisted the temptation to say that the Conservatives scrapped parking vouchers.
The Labour councillor, whose committee oversees parking policy and performance, said: “The parking voucher system … covered a small area of central Brighton until 2008.
“And the service was stopped by the then administration as it had become too expensive to administer due to printing costs, retail fee collection, the cost of keeping the shops stocked with vouchers (and) many mistakes being made when scratching off or displaying vouchers that then resulted in penalty charge notices being issued.
“And the cost of reintroducing voucher parking would be very high as on-street signage would have to be changed.
“At last week’s Policy, Resources and Growth Committee it was agreed by all parties to implement a contactless card payment system while replacing and upgrading the city’s on-street parking machines and to retain 150 cash machines in addition to the 150 pay-by-cash PayPoints.
“Ninety two per cent per cent of people in the UK own bank cards that are a widely used and easy form of payment, particularly by drivers.
“This proposal has been very positively welcomed indeed. It will be a convenient alternative for anyone not wishing to pay by phone.”
Councillor David Gibson said that the number of signatures suggested “an awful lot of concern” and he added weight to Conservative calls for the Environment, Transport and Sustainability Committee to consider the petition.
The Green councillor put forward an amendment calling on the committee to “investigate the difficulties faced by people without access to mobile phones and with mobility constraints (which are not necessarily sufficient to qualify for a blue badge) when using existing parking payment systems and recommend appropriate action to remedy any inequities of access to service for these groups.”
He said: “We’re really concerned that some people are struggling. The number of signatures on the petition suggests that this could well be the case.
“I don’t pretend to be an expert but I did have a passionate email from someone – one of my constituents – who was saying how she hates the current system, finds it really difficult.
“She’s 74, she has arthritis, she doesn’t qualify for a blue badge and she was delighted at the possibility of the reintroduction of scratch cards.
“I don’t pretend to be an expert. I don’t pretend to know what the best system is but I do believe very strongly that whatever response to this petition is made, we need to satisfy ourselves that people are not struggling to be able to park because of mobility (problems) and difficulty with phones.
“This amendment … seeks to ensure that the matter is seriously and properly considered.”
Councillor Jayne Bennett said: “I’d like to read a few relevant comments from when we were collecting the petition from residents across the city.”
The Conservative councillor quoted one saying: “I object to the parking machines in Brighton and Hove (being) payment by phone only.
“What happens when you’ve run out of credit or battery on your phone or it’s so windy that you can’t hear. Also if you make a mistake then it’s your fault but you may not know you’ve done that until you get a fine.
“Somebody else who’s a visitor to Hove (said) I’ve been left at my wit’s end by your parking system.
“Having tried to park near the seafront with my grandchild, I find you have to pay by mobile phone – not easy with a wriggling baby and traffic going past all the time to hear instructions.
“Then, having parked in Portland Road, having given up on the seafront, I then find that I can go to a designated shop to pay for parking but have to remember my car registration.
“Is parking in Brighton and Hove only for those who are techno savvy?”
Councillor Bennett quoted another person who signed the petition as saying: “A major issue I have with phone parking – I don’t have an iPhone. It also crosses my mind that I may not be the only one to have this problem with phone parking.
“I did, however, find a way round this problem. I just don’t pay. So far I’ve saved hundreds of pounds and I’m sure that Brighton and Hove Council can take pride in the fact that they’ve driven many local residents away from shopping at independent local retailers.”
Councillor Bennett added: “This is just a small sample. So we’ll accept the amendment and we hope we can bring back cash and voucher parking.”
Councillor Mitchell said: “As the award that we’ve been presented with has demonstrated – a national award – this council is seen as an exemplar for innovation in parking management.”
She was interrupted by jeers, heckling and ironic laughter before she added: “Whether you want to believe that or not, that’s fine, but it is patently true.
“I have a lot of faith in the contactless card payment system. I think it will be quick. I think it will be easy. And we will no longer have hundreds of thousands of pounds standing around on our pavements in rusty green boxes which will mean we will have a much safer and secure method of paying for our parking.”
The Conservatives and Greens joined forces to vote through the Green amendment before all three parties – including Labour – unanimously voted for a report to be brought to a meeting of the Environment, Transport and Sustainability Committee in the autumn.