Lara King

Pay and dismay: the nightmare of ‘smart’ parking apps

Photo-illustration: Coral Hoeren (iStock, Getty)

In Notes from a Small Island, Bill Bryson bemoaned the ‘wilfully unhelpful’ ticket machines in car parks: ‘You go hunting for some distant pay-and-display machine, which doesn’t make change or accept any coin introduced since 1976, and wait on an old guy who likes to read all the instructions before committing himself and then tries to insert his money through the ticket slot. The remarkable thing is that everything about this process is intentionally – mark this, intentionally – designed to flood your life with unhappiness.’

While these apps are an annoyance for me, they’re positively prohibitive for those without smartphones

Almost three decades later, you’d be lucky to find a parking meter at all. Pay-and-display machines across Britain are disappearing in favour of cashless ‘smart’ parking using mobile phone apps. It was reported this month that more than two million drivers will soon live in ‘parking meter deserts’ where the only way to pay for parking is via a smartphone.

If my experience is anything to go by, Bryson’s account could perhaps be updated for the present era: you go hunting for some distant sign to tell you which of the seven parking apps on your phone to use to pay, only to find that the required one won’t open without you updating to the ‘latest version’. You wait on a download over patchy 5G reception, and once the thing finally completes you must remember your username and password (how many capital letters did this one need?), then consult the sign again to find out which five digits represent the parking zone you’re in. You re-enter your car make, model and registration, painstakingly type out your credit card details – and then while you wait for the app to connect to your bank to validate the payment, you realise it’s all taken so long that you’ve missed your train/hospital appointment/dinner reservation anyway.

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