Case study: Torbay takes the hassle out of parking

WPS Pay-on-Exit and Pay and Display solutions adopted at Torbay Hospital

The parking solution aims to strike a balance between meeting the cost of delivering a service and providing a customer experience for patients and staff

The issue of parking within hospitals is constantly in the news and evokes strong emotions from all sides of the debate.

And finding the balance between meeting the cost of delivering a service and providing a customer experience that is sensitive to the environment is no easy task.

Convincing employees that parking is not a right, but a privilege, is also a challenge.

In the vanguard of industry thinking is Joanne Brimblecombe, the sustainability and site services lead within the estates and facilities management division of Torbay Hospital, part of the Torbay & South Devon NHS Foundation Trust.

Our site does not lend itself to only being able to offer one solution due to car park sizes so an option of both Pay on Foot and Pay and Display has been adopted

And supporting her and her team in delivering their vision is parking technology specialist, WPS.

Brimblecombe said: “Parking should be fair for all, not free for all, and we support concessionary parking on our trust site.”

The Torbay Hospital site, while not especially large, is still noticeably complex.

The diverse nature of the portfolio required a mix of solutions to be delivered: for the larger car parks and staff car parks, a Pay-on-Foot solution is preferred, with barrier controls; while, for the smaller car parks, typically with a capacity of 20 vehicles or less, the team opted for Pay and Display.

“Department of Health guidance recommends that NHS organisations should consider Pay-on-Exit systems,” Brimblecombe said.

“ This is considered best practice and will improve the patient and visitor experience.

“But our site does not lend itself to only being able to offer one solution due to car park sizes so an option of both Pay on Foot and Pay and Display has been adopted and WPS has been able to offer Pay-on-Exit and Pay and Display solutions.”

In replacing and upgrading its parking systems, the estates and facilities management team undertook a strategic review of all parking within the hospital, ensuring that patients and visitors were allowed to park closest to the main buildings with staff parking in the furthest car parks on site. Disabled badge holders and drop-off spaces were created outside entrances.

Alongside managing a portfolio of approximately 650 visitor parking spaces, it also had to accommodate large volumes (up to 1,100 spaces) of staff parking. It had to achieve all of this while ensuring vital highways (ie ‘the blue routes’) were kept clear so that emergency vehicles would not be held up by vehicles queuing on the surrounding roads.

“Parking is the first experience our patients and visitors have of our hospital,” said Brimblecombe.

We did consider ANPR and there is a place for ANPR in hospital parking, perhaps in the future. But operators who install systems that rely on enforcement and PCNs for their revenues can sit very uncomfortably in a hospital scenario

“It needs to be as smooth, hassle-free and as comfortable as possible, and that means having reliable systems that are easy to use and easy to configure to manage concessions and other specific requirements.”

The staff parking experience is similarly important, she adds.

“At Torbay, we provide staff parking, and staff have to pay. They can do so either on a monthly basis, or pay as you go, but in both cases they use their NHS smart card that acts as an ID badge, a payment card, and a card to operate the barrier.”

Hospital staff pay at different rates that are directly linked to the amount they earn, ranging from 50p to a maximum of £2.50 a day.

“The WPS systems have been configured accordingly to recognise the different charging bands,” Brimblecombe said.

“Making staff pay for their parking can be controversial and we were happy at how well the new system was received.”

In terms of visitor concessions, Torbay has adopted an innovative approach that gives it total discretion and control.

Thanks to the full TCP IP architecture of the WPS ParkAdvance systems installed, concessions can be easily accommodated.

“We have three scanners at various reception desks connected over our local network and several hand-held USB devices in the wards simply connected to ward PCs,” Brimblecombe explains.

“Certain wards (eg the cancer ward, ICU etc.) can therefore validate tickets – creating daily, or even a weekly, ticket – when it is appropriate to do so. It gives them greater control and significantly improves the patient/visitor experience.”

Discretion and control

This level of control helps to avoid one of the biggest challenges every hospital faces. On the one hand, revenues are important to meet the cost of managing the parking estate; on the other, a recently-bereaved visitor or patient just diagnosed with a serious illness does not need the additional stress of a Penalty Charge Notice. Unauthorised and unwanted parking also has to be managed, and abuses minimised.

It needs to be as smooth, hassle-free and as comfortable as possible, and that means having reliable systems that are easy to use and easy to configure to manage concessions and other specific requirements

“WPS technology was not the cheapest solution,” Brimblecombe said, “but it offers the right level of technology, reliability, and ease of use. Its Pay on Foot systems have undoubtedly helped us to maximise our parking revenues.”

In selecting a parking solution and an equipment provider, she considered various options and suppliers. Among them was a system based on Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR).

She said: “We did consider ANPR and there is a place for ANPR in hospital parking, perhaps in the future. But operators who install systems that rely on enforcement and PCNs for their revenues can sit very uncomfortably in a hospital scenario.”

Another option considered, was one centred around chip coins.

Brimblecombe said: “We looked at chip coins, but they are very expensive to replace and easily lost. They also need to be hygienically cleaned to prevent the spread of infections.”

Enforcement management

Enforcement was another consideration.

She said: “We used to use a parking contractor via our local council to provide enforcement, but they dealt with everything in black or white.

“Parking in hospitals is never black and white; there are many different shades of grey, and you need a system that allows you to accommodate many different situations and concessions, especially in the most-sensitive cases. Today we have our own traffic team who work closely with the security team and an outsourced enforcement company be we retain control of any enforcement activity and have the final say on any appeal.”

And ease of use for the new parking system was essential, she adds.

“The systems needed to be easy to understand and operate. When the new WPS systems were first installed, we had teams outside to show people how they worked. Now we have an intercom and visitors feel comfortable if they have someone they can speak to.”

One particular challenge to solve involved a particularly-large staff car park. The challenge was how to ensure a smooth entry/exit for a large number of vehicles at peak times, without impinging on space.

Brimblecombe said: “WPS proposed a bi-directional lane. We initially looked at the option of having four lanes, (two in and two out), but this took up vital parking spaces. WPS proposed three lanes, where the middle lane becomes bi-directional and the others, one entry and one exit. The middle lane is on a timer, so at the busiest times in the morning, it becomes an entrance, and in the evening, it switches to become an exit.”

Latest technology

The technology on site is constantly being upgraded and replenished, with legacy systems removed and new WPS technology installed as budgets allow.

Among the most-recent systems to be delivered is the new ‘TicketLine’ Pay and Display technology from WPS’ German partners, WSA. It is a leading-edge technology that provides flexible payment options including cashless and smart/loyalty cards. It also has real-time reporting capabilities.

The hospital is also looking at how it can better integrate and rationalise parking at various community sites across the town.

Brimblecombe said: “The principal advantage of the WPS technology is that it is effectively futureproof. That enables us to think freely and differently about what we want to achieve to enhance the customer experience, knowing that whatever we do, the WPS technology will enable us to do it.”

Current thinking is towards barcoded letters to visiting patients, with allocated parking to further smooth the customer journey.

Space counting and the wider use of variable message signs and parking guidance is also a consideration, as well as extending the system’s mobile capabilities. While the payment terminals already take cash and cashless (including contactless) payments, more-recent payment methods can also be accommodated if required.

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