Pay and display parking meters are being removed from UK streets, leaving drivers to rely on dozens of mobile apps or face a parking ticket.
Councils are reportedly removing the physical machines as changes to the mobile phone network render them useless or expensive to upgrade. However, there are fears that the move could make motoring more difficult for more vulnerable drivers.
Campaigners have claimed the move is “disastrous” for people who do not own a smartphone or struggle with technology and could isolate older people who rely on their cars.
The Times has reported that some councils have already scrapped their pay and display machines while others are in the process of removing them as the 3G mobile networks they use to process card payments are switched off. Vodafone’s entire 3G network will be scrapped by the end of the year, with EE following early in 2024 and Three turning its signal off in late 2024.
Upgrading the meters to work with 4G is seen as too expensive, with one council estimating that it would cost £700 per machine to upgrade and around £5,000 to replace those too old to be updated. One parking app boss also blamed theft and vandalism for councils’ willingness to scrap the machines in favour of apps.
Apps are seen as a convenient way to process parking payments but there are more than 30 different smartphone programmes, including RingGo, JustPark and ParkMe, covering different parts of the country. Each requires drivers to register and set up payment methods before they can use them.
Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said this reliance on technology could be difficult for some drivers. She told the Times: “The news that we may soon see the end of pay and display parking is disastrous for anyone without a smartphone, including millions of older people who are struggling with the shift away from the coin-in-the-slot payment methods they used throughout their lives.
“If you are an older person who is reliant on your car for getting around but you have no means of legally parking it near to where you want to go, then you may be left feeling there is little point going there at all.”
Abrahams called for councils to ensure there is always an alternative offline payment method using cash or card, something the British Parking Association backed.
It said that the majority of people welcome the “convenience” of using apps but admitted that “this technology may alienate some people, including the elderly”.
The London boroughs of Bromley and Enfield will remove all of their pay and display machines by early April while Brighton & Hove city council will have scrapped all of its by the end of May. Richmond, Merton, and Barking and Dagenham hve also begun the process of removing the units from their streets.
Harrow has aleady removed all of its and Westminster city council scrapped the last of its pay and display machines in 2019 which it said have received “no reaction whatsoever”.