Colchester turns loss into revenue through digital parking from Chipside
A 20-mile fact finding trip from Ipswich to Colchester was the catalyst for a seven figure turn around in the fortunes of Colchester Council’s parking operation, thanks to the quick reactions of Wiltshire-based digital permitting experts Chipside.
Richard Walker was, at the time, running parking operations at Ipswich Council. He was looking for a digital parking permit system for the town and sought inspiration from neighbouring Colchester. When he saw what Colchester has implemented in this area, he made an immediate call to Paul Moorby, CEO of Chipside. This was on a Friday afternoon. On the Monday morning Paul was in Richard’s office mapping out what a digital parking system could look like and creating what was to become Chipside’s premier parking product MiPermit.
Building a long term parking partnership
“The initial association with Chipside was pretty much a gentlemen’s agreement,” comments Richard. “It was based on conversations between me and Paul that went along the lines of ‘we’ll trust you to deliver something that works for our circumstances and you can trust us to pay for it’.”
Ironically, having implemented the fore-runner to MiPermit in Ipswich, Richard got a promotion to work for Colchester Borough Council – with a wide remit to revitalise parking in a Partnership area that now covers seven authorities and half of the county, the North Essex Parking Partnership. Conversations with Chipside continued in the new role and the idea of delivering a cashless parking system in a much wider area was formed.
“Previously parking permitting had been largely managed by a system of scratch cards that needed to be sent out to residents. Simply storing the stationery, folding the paper into envelopes and sending them through the post was a hugely time and labour-intensive task,” comments Richard. “We wanted to see if there was a digital solution to this problem and tasked Chipside with finding a solution that would cover resident permits, visitor permits and general parking in the Borough Council’s owned car parks for shoppers and commuters.”
Chipside is a leading digital permitting company the delivers parking services to more than half of all UK councils. The company has developed a platform to run digital parking solutions, but one size does not fit all and Chipside is committed to delivering a bespoke experience that suits the unique needs of each council.
In the case of Colchester, the needs were broad – from residents that required on street parking permits for themselves or people visiting them to casual parking for an hour or two. Chipside created a solution for Colchester that delivered on all these needs, using the MiPermit app and website as a central resource to make parking simpler and more effective for residents.
One system for all parking
Richard continues: “We have around 5,200 residents permits, and we have managed to move all of these to the MiPermit system. This makes it simpler for residents to update their details, for example when they change their car, because it can be done online 24 hours a day. Previously they would have had to go to the Town Hall and show proof of residence which is time consuming and inconvenient.”
In addition, MiPermit manages around 90% of the 170,000 daily visitor parking permits issued by the Borough Council. This is also more convenient for both parties. “Previously you had to buy these in person in blocks of 10 for £8,” adds Richard. “We needed someone to count the cash, issue the permits, ensure the right permit was used, handle the change and petty cash. All this can be handled digitally now.”
The 10% exceptions relate to the specific needs of those unable to access digital services, a point that Richard is keen to emphasise: “There are always exceptions so it is important that we continue to offer a paper-based system for those that cannot access digital services. For the majority though, the benefits of digital are obvious and immediate. When the car tax disc became an online service, it helped to raise awareness among drivers of what was possible and take up of digital parking services grew.”
Casual parking is still a mixture of cash, contactless payments and MiPermit, with the latter growing in importance. “People immediately see the benefits of MiPermit. They get reminders that their parking is ending soon, they can extend a stay online or on the app. Chipside’s integration with our parking inspectors’ machines means that the machines interlock to prevent a penalty notice being issued unless a car is in breach. This has hugely reduced the administration associated with managing enquiries and disputes and raised the perception of Colchester with the public.”
The reduction in cost of implementing Chipside’s MiPermit was immediate and obvious. “By moving to digital permits for residents we immediately saved more than £40,000 in stationery costs,” comments Richard. “We could also reduce the number of people focussed on dealing with parking issues within the department, since it was simpler for the public to get access to the right permit. It has also given us much more transparency and a stronger audit trail since we have a detailed digital record of every transaction.”
Financially, Chipside has helped Colchester move from a position where, at inception, the Partnership was spending more than half a million pounds a year on parking to the point where the Council has generated a surplus reserve of one million pounds on the operation in just seven years. “Digital transformation can deliver significant benefits, but it was only thanks to the flexibility and innovation shown by Chipside that we could take full advantage of the opportunity,” comments Richard.
“There are very few times in life that you imagine the ideal service and it is delivered in exactly the way you imagined it,” Richard continues. “Without Chipside as our partner in this transformation we would not have been able to achieve what we have. The flexibility they showed, their ability to listen to our needs and deliver a system that works to these needs and the commitment to innovate continuously has delivered a huge return on investment and a solution that works for us and the public.”