“Is this all part of the big anti-car conspiracy?” I asked myself as I encountered yet another complex and confusing parking pay station in Manchester city centre. My smartphone at the time was on its last legs and the last thing I needed was to be told I needed to download yet another app to avoid a parking fine.
Yet that is what our increasingly automated, technology-driven world seems to be doing – psychologically bludgeoning us all into becoming tech-savvy enough so we can actually park our evil, gas-guzzling, and thus polluting, chunks of metal legally without incurring a punitive charge.
It’s experiences like this that guilt-tripped me into upgrading to the latest iPhone, so frightened was I of being labeled a parking app dunce. But I am not alone. I took a walk around Manchester this week, particularly the Northern Quarter via Piccadilly, and observed a number of motorists scratching their heads, confused about how to pay for their parking.
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Of course, the car parking companies want us to pay with a cashless option. This is evidenced by the rapidly diminishing number of machines you can actually insert coins into.
I worry about what an elderly person who has never owned – and never wants to own – a smartphone is eventually going to do, when the more straightforward options are gone. For this exercise, I parked on the NCP car park at Chorlton Street, although I did consider traveling into the city center on the train, to avoid the whole parking trauma (maybe that’s the whole point of all these different parking apps – to drive us off the road as well as insane). Be warned, you have to remember your registration number so you can return to your car and pay for your time.
There’s no ticket issued because they have ANPR (automatic number plate recognition) cameras which observe you entering and leaving. This seems pretty straightforward, and if you need a receipt for your financial records, the pay machine will present an easy option to select. But this is also a cashless paying system, so if you’ve left your bank card at home you’re in trouble.
Another cashless system is the Euro Car Parks facility next to Minshull Street Crown Court, but others in the Northern Quarter, like the car parks run by The Parking Space (TPS) do take coins, as do the roadside machines run by Manchester City Council.
Simple Intelligent Parking (SIP), the Manchester company, have some card payment only car parks, but also some where you can pay with cash, so it’s wise to check the signage before committing yourself and parking up.
I’ve got to confess I’ve bitten the bullet and loaded the PayByPhone and RingGo apps onto my phone, and I’ve found that once you’ve used them once and they remember the registration number of your car, they’re pretty easy to use. But it was initially a very annoying experience. You’ll also find these apps useful if you visit the Lake District and other tourist destinations, as I found out recently.
I think many prospective visitors to Manchester who have visited Trip Advisor to find out about parking ahead of their journey have received valuable advice. Chiefly, it is: “Go on the train or bus, and leave car at home.”
One contributor wrote succinctly: “Come by train, it’s probably cheaper in long run, and safer if you’re thinking of having a bevvy? Enjoy.” That just about sums the situation up, I’d say. Game, set and match to the anti-car lobby.