Tear up your parking ticket
Drivers in Hull are paying for parking through their mobile phones
Thursday July 4, 2002
Most days, Frank Watson drives into the city. At the car park, he calls a number on his mobile. He is connected to an automated voice recognition system which asks him for his PIN. He then answers two short questions: which car park he's in and how long he wants to stay. He parks the car and he's on his way. No hunting for change, no returning to the car with a ticket.
You would be forgiven for thinking Watson is a businessman in a hi-tech country of early adopters in Scandinavia. But he is a pensioner and lives in Hull, which, believe it or not, is the UK's most mobile-enabled city. The council, in its drive to make Hull a top 10 digital city, is pushing ahead with schemes to make so-called m-payment transactions an everyday occurrence for everyone.
The programme is being tested this summer, targeting 200 regular users of the city's 10 above-ground car parks. More than 100 have signed up and are using their phones to pay for parking. The system is relatively simple. Users go through an initial registration process providing name, mobile number, a payment method (in the test this is restricted to credit and debit cards) and vehicle registration number. Registration should ultimately be conducted online or via an automated voice recognition system, but for the test it is done via a live operator over the phone. Upon registration, users receive a special parking permit to identify their car as part of the scheme.
If Frank decides to stay longer in town, he receives an automated SMS message saying his parking time is about to expire. He can top it up from his mobile. No need to dash back to the car park and placate traffic wardens. Wardens recognise his car is in the scheme from the permit on the windscreen. They check he is paid by punching his vehicle registration details into a handheld device. They can also use the device to send him an SMS message if he has forgotten to turn off his lights or has a flat tyre.
The scheme's benefits for the customer are clear: a convenient service that anyone can use, even those who may feel less comfortable with new technologies. Hull city council also derives advantage. Avoiding the hunt for change and not queueing for tickets means fewer people are likely to park without paying. Cash management is expensive - monitoring ticket machines, emptying and repairing them. All these costs should be significantly reduced.
So it is a reality in Hull, but why has the m-payment future taken so long? Although the user experience is simple, the processes that support it are complex, involving collaboration between Ericsson, Vodafone, the Israeli m-payment specialist Cellenium (www.cellenium.com) and the voice recognition supplier Vox Generation (www.voxgeneration.com). Now that the system is in place, further services should soon follow.
Hull is one of only two or three m-payment schemes in the UK so far. The German Paybox system recently introduced to several London restaurants has yet to acquire many users. But it is a proven technology. In its home market, more than 600,000 people use their mobiles to pay for all sorts of goods and services both on and offline.
You can even make mobile-to-mobile payments. If your friend lends you a fiver for lunch, you can send payment to his bank account direct from your mobile. Denmark, Spain, Sweden and Austria all have working m-payment schemes in place - not to mention Latvia and Israel.
Cellenium's Daniel Alon believes the key to success is simplicity and breadth of service. "You have to come to market with a broad suite of simple services so it's worth the consumer going to the trouble to sign up. Something the consumer only uses a few times a month doesn't make much sense for them. If there is a range of services that are day-to-day things that a consumer will do a few of every week, then it becomes much more valuable."
Fully fledged m-payment may be restricted to Hull for now, but experience elsewhere suggests it really is on the way. Alon believes we'll see mass-market m-payment in the UK within a year, with parking and taxis as the front runners.
Hull parking scheme