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Comment: What transport will look like in 2021

Peter O’Driscoll, managing director at RingGo

Peter O’Driscoll, managing director, RingGo, gives his mobility predictions for 2021 and the sectors that will see the biggest developments.

Much like everyone else, I could never have predicted what happened in 2020. This time last year I was thinking about in-car payments, EV adoption and our relationship with local authorities. While a few of these topics still moved forward, I never would have believed that in March I would be looking at a 95% decline in parking sessions and helping local councils provide free parking for the NHS. But this is the year that we had.

Looking back to move forward

While many of my 2020 predictions were still topics of discussion this year, they inevitably veered in a significantly different direction. Everyone became reengaged in the digital debate, not from an ease of use standpoint or a technology advancement argument, but for safety — priority number one this year. Safely parking in a touch free way without using coins and parking machines; safely social distancing by not queuing at parking machines, and safely getting the economy moving again.

We also strengthened our relationships with local authorities, but instead of looking at improvements, we were triaging issues. Turning parking off and on again, providing solutions to help key workers, and strengthening touch free parking to encourage motorists to venture out when restrictions were lifted. Local authorities have suffered this year, and it was everything we could do to help out in any way we could.

In 2020, we all stood around and smelled the fresh air. We took walks and heard wildlife return to residential areas. We saw smog disappear and appreciated how clean our cities could be. This was not the change in mindset we anticipated, but it is one we hope will last as the government also embraces ambitious targets to phase out petrol cars.

Despite everything that this year threw at us, we moved forward. Maybe not in the way we planned, but we pivoted and found our agility. Sitting at the end of 2020, with many unanswered questions still looming, how do we take what we learned and move into 2021?

Getting moving again 

The mobility industry was one of the hardest hit in 2020 as everyone stopped moving. Trains were empty, roads were deserted, and parking plummeted.

Over 50% of people are still traveling less than they did pre-Covid, and despite the fact that many are likely to return to pre-COVID-19 habits, private cars are likely to maintain their new found popularity alongside biking and walking. In 2021, it will take a real force to get people back on public transport in the numbers we have traditionally been used to.

One of the biggest changes I think we will see in 2021 is in the public transport pricing model. With remote work still slated to be more popular than pre-COVID, less people will see the need to pay the price for public transport. Driving into the office once or twice a week becomes more financially feasible, if not also safer. Public transport – especially trains – need to put together more competitive pricing to compel commuters back onto the platforms.

The time it takes us to move back to public transport is also a time in which more cars are on the road, bringing pollution back to the forefront of people’s minds. To combat the increasing use of cars, I think we will start to see the extension of emissions-based vehicle schemes – ULEZ, CAZ, EBP – to offset the environmental impact of busier roads. Additionally, lots of towns and cities will look at traffic reduction schemes such as low traffic neighbourhoods to meet local pollution targets, making the cities greener.

Lots of changes that come out of 2020 will have knock on effects to other mobility areas in 2021.

Touch free is taking off 

Touch free, app based payments in the parking world are nothing new in 2021, but I believe this is the year that adoption will take a big leap forward. Unfortunately, one of the driving forces behind this has been the pandemic and a growing consumer desire to avoid street furniture and carrying cash. However, I believe it is a push in the right direction that will bring big benefits next year.

On the surface, touch free parking helps motorist and employees at local authorities or parking operators minimise the surfaces they touch and manage social distancing better by eliminating the need to use parking machines. But next year, we will all see the added benefits. Less tickets, ease of use, data for planning and crowd management, lower maintenance costs for car parks, the list could go on.

While 2021 might see the total number of parking transactions fall, it will see digital penetration grow significantly. It is what motorists want and parking providers need to embrace this change.

Bringing it all together 

2020 was a year of adjusting to consumer needs; not something that the parking industry has always caters towards. Often, we get bogged down in what those running the car park need and forget about the motorists we hope will park their cars there. But this mentality has to change. We have to catch up with the consumer-driven culture.

In 2021, as there is a continued race to the bottom with tender offers and pressure on margins for local authorities, I think we need to take a step back and really think about what we are offering the consumer. We need to factor choice into the equation and in such a competitive market, choice is often completely taken away from the user.

Next year we will start to see this change as the leaders in our industry start to experiment with what it would look like to have a multi-vendor ecosystem. If the motorist had a choice of which parking app to use when they park, not only would it be better for them, it would be better for the operator. It would advance the digital conversation even more and force app providers to create really great products.

Creating this multi-vendor model leads directly into creating smarter cities, where data from lots of different sources – multiple parking apps being one of them – can be aggregated in a specific platform making it easier to understand, plan, and innovate even more. This will present the opportunity to create interconnected journey’s through cities, as well as track how and when people are using different modes of transport. This ultimately all leads back to creating smarter, cleaner, healthier, more liveable cities.

While this goal of a smart city might still feel far away, those that don’t take the first steps towards it next year will find themselves left behind quickly.

We are not going to flip the calendar on 31 December and find that all of the challenges we have faced in 2020 magically disappear. In the mobility industry, it is still going to take months to find level ground, but 2021 is not a year to stand still. It is a year to take what we have learned and start investing. It is the year when digital will finally become king of the parking world.