Project aims and objectives
How many of us have had that daunting feeling when visiting a new town or city, whether for work or pleasure, and not knowing where to park? Or facing the dilemma of whether there will be any spaces left, how much is it going to cost and will I have enough change?
That frantic rummaging for loose change in the centre console is now long forgotten in Harrogate town centre.
Harrogate Borough Council operates its own off-street car parks as well as managing on-street car parking on behalf of North Yorkshire County Council. In 2017, in partnership with county colleagues, they began exploring smart parking as one element of a local digital and connectivity programme.
There was growing evidence that Harrogate was not immune to the climate of declining footfall and retail performance. Congestion had also become a local issue and there was a lack of evidence to support strategic decisions around parking assets. Research suggested smart parking had the potential to improve the customer experience, support the local visitor economy and enhance data-driven decision making.
Late in 2017 Harrogate Borough Council applied to an innovation competition fund and were subsequently chosen as the preferred destination to introduce a unique smart parking solution. The cost of the hardware and installation would be met by the fund.
After careful consideration of the available evidence, both Harrogate Borough Council and North Yorkshire County Council were bold enough to recognise the opportunity and potential benefits of a pioneering project, albeit implemented on a two-year trial basis.
The primary risk to the local authorities was the shift to minute-by-minute parking charging. A ‘linear’ pricing model is considered fairer to the customer but was uncommon in the UK. We decided that with an appropriate minimum charge, the benefits to the customer would outweigh the risks to us if it was monitored closely.
So how does smart parking work in Harrogate town centre?
A total of 2,200 surface mounted sensors were installed in all ‘paid for’ on-street parking bays and off-street surface level car parks.
The sensor can determine if a space is occupied in real time and provides this information to a free smartphone app used by the motorist. It also confirms the cost for each parking space and the hours of availability.
The app allows the motorist to navigate the most efficient route to the parking space that suits their needs and avoid areas where there is no available parking. On arrival, the motorist starts their parking session via the app with one click or they can still choose to pay and display in the traditional way.
A key benefit for both the motorist and the high street is that the motorist does not have to predict how long they will be in the bay and the session automatically ends when the car leaves. Payment is taken for the minutes parked, plus a convenience fee of 20p for each parking session.
How many of us have had to end visits to the high street abruptly for fear of the parking ticket running out? This smart parking solutions takes the worry away.
The system has also been integrated within the town’s two ‘barriered’ car parks through the use of automatic number plate recognition cameras. Motorists, who include their car registration in the app, can automatically enter and exit the car park and are charged accordingly.
The cross-party work included amendments to traffic management orders and the installation of two low powered wide area network antennas on council buildings. The key technical challenge related to the integration with various suppliers and platforms to deliver a seamless experience for users.
During the first 18 months of the trial, take-up was encouraging. A total of 140,000 smart parking sessions were conducted by around 10,000 individual customers, equating to around ten per cent of all parking sessions.
As the project was a trial it was important to understand the benefits to the motorist as well as the two local authorities. Therefore customer feedback was essential, and 627 smart parking users were surveyed in 2020, with the results showing:
Improved customer experience
- 83 per cent of users said using smart parking alleviates stress normally associated with using a pay and display machine
- 93 per cent said it is more convenient than using a pay and display machine
- 89 per cent believed the solution is fairer and makes parking easier.
Benefit to the local economy
- the smart parking trial has supported a positive vision for the town centre
- 62 per cent of users said they stay longer in Harrogate town centre as a result of not worrying about a pay and display ticket expiring
- 60 per cent said they were more likely to park in Harrogate because they can pay via the app
Benefit to the environment
- the trial has resulted in fewer miles being driven in Harrogate town centre
- 32 per cent of users said they now check availability in-app before they arrive at their destination
- 56 per cent of users have saved time finding a car parking space
Improved operational and strategic insight
Smart parking has provided both authorities with real-time capacity data, payment data and overstay data for parking across the town. The data has also acted as a robust evidence base for the recent parking review that will support town centre master planning in the future.
Financial benefit to the councils
The average session derived an additional 50p off-street and 25p on-street compared with customers who chose to pay and display. This is driven by:
- no rushing back by the customer to avoid a parking ticket
- the customer paying immediately upon arrival (89 per cent of users said the app saves them time compared with displaying a ticket)
- the customer paying for the entire duration of their stay (for instance, the session ends when they drive away)
- further financial benefits have been made through reduced transaction costs as well as less cash management
Financial benefit to the customer
Despite the 20p convenience fee, more often than not smart parking is cheaper for the customer than pay and display as they only pay for the minutes they use and do not overpay within a block purchase of time.
Following the success of the trial Harrogate Borough Council are currently exploring implementing a permanent solution.
This project won the 'Innovation of the Year' category at the LGC Awards 2020.