Flexible permitting for hospital parking
From April 2020, the NHS will be offering free hospital parking to thousands more patients and visitors across England. The BBC reported that this concession for specified groups of people will be made by all 206 hospital trusts in line with the government’s manifesto promise.
The widespread changes are designed to benefit those who need free parking the most, including blue badge holders, parents visiting in-patient children and NHS staff working night shifts. Arguably, free or concession parking for these groups is long overdue. But the debate around universal free hospital parking is more problematic than it appears.
Free parking not the best remedy
Parking revenues are an essential revenue stream for NHS trusts - £254 million was raised from parking charges in 2018-2019 according to a Freedom of Information request made by the BBC. This is then reinvested into hospital infrastructure and patient care. Take this revenue away and there is a significant shortfall in funds to recoup elsewhere. The Government has said £78m per year will be provided, which it says is new funding for extra parking capacity, or compensation for lost fees, but that does not equate to the amount currently made from parking charges. If free parking is a local priority, some of the £20 billion that is being invested in NHS could be allocated to parking services.
If parking is completely free then how will hospitals ensure that car parks are used by NHS staff, patients and visitors rather than as a convenient option for people to walk into town? Free hospital parking schemes in Scotland show that valuable parking spaces were being used by commuters or local residents, leaving staff, hospital visitors or patients struggling to find a space.
Flexible and intelligent permitting
The reality is that hospital car parks could become even more congested without parking charges, negatively impacting those who genuinely need easy access to the hospital. Rather than free parking, hospital management and industry bodies could use digital permitting to manage hospital parking spaces more effectively. Technologies like MiPermit enable hospital trusts to deliver free parking to those who most need it, and to intelligently and flexibly manage parking so that it is accessible to other priority groups.
Digital means hospital managers can offer free parking to those most in need, flexibly, in real time and easily - for example if patient appointments are overrunning through no fault of their own, while charging other users or for longer stays beyond appointment times. To do that, it is important that the hospital has big data and digital systems that provide that flexibility.
Technology makes it possible to offer permits on a time slot, priority or location basis. Conceivably this could help to ease the pressure on hospital car parking at peak times and ensure that car parking spaces are always available for people with allocated digital permits.
As an example, outpatients could be offered a code to purchase a timed car parking permit for the duration of their hospital appointment. A hospital might choose to offer elderly or disabled patients and visitors permits for car parking spaces close to the hospital building. Digital permitting also enables dynamic pricing; the ability to offer different types of permits to different people during the day and night.
Changes to hospital parking this April make a positive first step in how NHS trusts manage hospital parking, but there are many more improvements to be made. The key to future success is how parking charges and revenues are balanced with delivering a more satisfactory parking experience for hospital staff, visitors and patients. Digital permits open the opportunity for more flexible, accessible and clearer parking for everyone.