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Appy days are here again

Cat James
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I recently drove to Halifax to visit the spectacular Piece Hall. I found a parking space almost adjacent, but the process to pay to park was exasperating.

The machine did not take coins. Nor – surprisingly – could I use my debit card to make a contactless payment. No, for the privilege of leaving my car kerbside, Calderdale Council boasts that parking in Halifax town centre has been made easier with cashless payment options to “simplify the parking process from both a customer and operational point of view”. As far as I could deduce the simplification was not to my benefit, and the ‘options’ were actually one option – download the APCOA app or bugger off. And, if I used the app, then a “convenience fee” would apply.

The lure of the Piece Hall was enough for me to overcome my ire, so I stood in the street fumbling with my smartphone. Having found and downloaded the app, I registered my vehicle, name and other personal information including my debit card details, before buying parking time – which, despite all that fannying about, was limited to a maximum of two hours. I certainly wasn’t getting any additional convenience as far as I could tell, so what the extra fee was for lord knows.

A day or so later, I was in Leeds. There, on-street parking is facilitated by an app called RingGo. On the Island, public car parks use PayByPhone. My employer insists I pay to park at work via the ludicrously-named MiPermit (surely theirs, not mine?). So many apps, so little choice; after all, even if you contact the app company to buy your parking session over the phone, ultimately you still need a mobile.

Using cash to park – and taking subversive delight in handing an unexpired ticket to a fellow motorist – was one of life’s simple wins. With an app, ticket swapping is not allowed – in fact it’s not even possible.

Not everyone has a pocketful of chinking coins, so I understand the attraction of cashless payments, even via a pesky app. So why am I so piqued by parking apps? It’s the collection of personal data and surveillance of our daily micro-movements by private companies (and the authorities which contract their services to them) which irks me. Time, place, date, payment method; all logged and recorded in cyberspace.

More importantly, the dependence on app-based ‘solutions’ disenfranchises many people. Not everyone has a smartphone and, of those who do, some might be on pay-as-you-go, so will be charged for the privilege to download an app, plus its galling ‘convenience fee’.

Today I read that Transport Secretary Grant Schapps is proposing to do away with railway ticket offices, pushing all travel purchases online – once again effectively monitoring citizens’ journeys. Many people will embrace the ‘save time, do it online’ message, but for the technically-challenged it might mean the difference between letting the train take the strain, or staying at home. It begs the question, who are these systems for, us – or them?

This article first appeared in print in the Isle of Wight County Press on 24 June 2022 and also online.

Cat James

Graphic designer, creative director of Pinkeye Graphics, Isle of Wight County Press columnist, Cat out of Matt and Cat

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