Will Hurley, Chief Executive of The International Parking Community says there is no magic wand, but decisive and careful management and a commitment to high service standards will help to improve the parking experience of patients, visitors and staff.
It is inevitable that customer service issues will arise when there are not enough parking spaces to meet demand. In the healthcare sector, however, the issues are exacerbated by the sensitive and often emotionally-charged service environment. Parking should not, therefore, be seen as a peripheral topic for hospitals and Health Trusts. It may be far removed from frontline healthcare but, like it or not, it is a resource that will have a significant impact on customer experience and staff morale so needs to be managed with care and diligence.
The need to educate and inform both staff and visitors to the hospital about the importance of balancing the respective parking priorities of different people is vital. So too is the need to work closely with other parties such as local authorities, bus operators and other local service providers to encourage the use of other forms of transport that will minimise the demand and pressure on the limited parking that’s available. But, it’s just as important to remind everyone that parking is not a civil liberty and why the hospital charges and enforces its facilities to minimise abuse of the privilege and maintain fairness for everyone.
Of course, the parking conundrum is particularly challenging for those health trusts based in the heart of a metropolitan area. Here, the demand for parking spaces is that much more acute, not just as a result of the limitations posed by the high cost of land and density of development, but also the knock-on effect of the similar parking pressures faced by neighbouring venues. In the centre of Leeds, for example, the city’s large teaching hospital – the Leeds General Infirmary – is right next door to the University of Leeds, not to mention other city centre facilities. In such cases, it is important that restrictions and disciplines are applied to ensure the parking spaces for staff, patients and visitors to the hospital are not exploited by other motorists and to encourage greater use of public transport.
Many hospitals on the outskirts of large centres of population are not immune from similar parking-related issues. In theory, such centres of healthcare have more scope to increase the amount of space provided for staff and visitor parking, not least to compensate for less intensive public transport options. However, restrictions imposed by local planning authorities that reflect sustainability and traffic management policies frequently prevent a Health Trust from providing parking resources in excess of a predetermined level. The result is not surprising. Once again, parking limitations can become a real headache and the task facing the estate management team is to provide effective management of the limited resources to deliver the best possible outcome for all users.
The abuse and misuse of parking facilities on private land is nothing new. Nor is the difficulty of managing a resource where demand exceeds supply – as Health Trusts know all too well. Some Trusts have chosen to manage their parking facilities within their own estate management and security departments. Others have opted to hand over responsibility to an experienced external operator to manage all or part of the parking operation. Either way, clear and consistent policies on parking regulations and practices, the visible adoption of the principles of best practice, disciplined management procedures and a concerted approach to educate service users are all vital.
Achieving the right balance
When selecting and appointing an external service operator, for example, it is important to work with a partner that recognises the need to balance its own commercial imperatives with a pragmatic and sensitive approach to customer service in such a unique and emotive environment. We are all too familiar with alarming stories in the media that invariably result from a hospital’s arm’s length relationship with a commercial parking operator, where enforcement practicalities and judgements are far removed from the Health Trust’s stated customer service objectives.
The successful use of any external contractor will ultimately be determined by the remit provided and the careful monitoring and management of the performance and service level agreements that are in place – none more so than when a public service provider is commissioning services within a complex and sensitive area such as parking. Consequently, it is vital to establish clear rules and guidelines for high professional standards and procedures from the outset – an area where the IPC has a great deal of experience for Health Trusts and operators to call upon.
It’s important to remember that most visitors will not visit a hospital regularly so there is limited opportunity for them to become familiar with the parking arrangements and regulations. Consequently, clear, prominent and explicit signage is essential to avoid errors and oversights and to minimise misuse of the parking facilities. It is also important to consider convenience for all types of visitors to the hospital when it comes to paying for their parking. Multi-payment facilities that include post-visit online options, create a simple and convenient solution and will help to alleviate payment problems that can arise for those who were unprepared for an emergency visit to the hospital.
In a similar way, parking fees should not be decided on a whim. Costs should be transparent and determined by a multitude of factors – rates must not compound user demand by attracting motorists from other external venues and, as far as possible, differential fees should encourage regular turnover of spaces. And, to minimise suspicion and scepticism, it’s just as important for a Trust be transparent about the way it uses income from its parking fees.
Parking policies and resources should also respect the contrasting priorities and shift patterns of all levels of staff. Here, it’s important to ensure all staff are made aware of the parking challenges and the benefits of regulations to help maintain control and fairness at all times. This needs to be supported with a consistent and appropriate enforcement to minimise discord and maximise compliance – not just at the point of enforcement, but also within a Trust’s employment contracts and disciplinary procedures.
A 2017 court ruling in connection with an accumulation of unpaid parking charge notices by a number of staff at the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff, highlighted the pressures on parking resources and the impact on fairness and morale of staff. In response to a media backlash after the judge at Cardiff Civil Justice Centre ruled in favour of the private parking operator, the Cardiff and Vale University Health Board emphasised that “98% of staff complied with parking regulations.” It also highlighted the increase in the number of parking spaces available for staff and its work with the local Council to introduce a public service hub for vehicles and buses as part of its commitment to sustainable travel solutions.
One of the issues in this particular case related to the allocation of staff parking permits. A familiar situation for many health trusts is the need to allocate more permits than available spaces to ensure maximum space occupancy at all times by making allowances for absence through holiday, sickness and the nature of shift working. Such an approach is not unique to the health sector and is common practice where parking availability is severely restricted. So long as this and the need for effective enforcement is explained in very clear terms at the time a person receives their permit, the onus is on every permit holder to respect and follow the regulations or face the consequences of non-compliance.
Fortunately, advances in software technology are now enabling health trusts to develop a more flexible and needs-based approach to permit management. Multi-tiered virtual permit solutions offer a far more comprehensive solution for managing restricted parking resources by taking into account the disparate needs and priorities of different personnel at different times of the day. This technology even enables the emissions of different vehicles to be taken into account – a feature that is of particular significance for Health Trusts that have a published commitment to deliver sustainable transport policies.
Working in tandem with ANPR and real-time updates sent to the patrolling security and enforcement officers, such systems help to maximise fairness and simplify the monitoring and use of permits in designated staff parking areas. Moreover, data derived from such an approach enables permit eligibility and criteria to be continually updated to help optimise accessibility and take account of any noticeable pinch points in parking provision.
There is no magic wand and it will never be possible to keep everyone happy all of the time when there is insufficient supply to meet demand. But there is no benefit to be gained by being heavy-handed or turning a blind eye to the practical and very real needs of visitors and staff. And, there’s certainly no convenient carpet available to brush things under. However, there are ways to minimise many of the parking issues being experienced by Health Trusts around the country.
Recognising the support and opportunities that are available, capitalising on new technologies, pursuing best practices and adopting a disciplined and determined approach for managing the parking resource will enable Trusts to rise to the challenge with confidence. The professional guidance and support that’s now available to Health Trusts will also help. So too will the opportunity to learn from the insight and supplier experiences of other IPC members which include Health Trusts and many other major public organisations. More importantly, such a considered and informed approach to parking management will help to maximise the parking experience of staff, patients and visitors alike.
With a professional background in the legal profession, Will Hurley is Chief Executive of the International Parking Community. Having graduated in Law at Keele University, he completed a two year Legal Practice course at Staffordshire University before his first position in professional practice in Cheshire where he remained for seven years specialising in Criminal Law and Regulatory Law. In 2011, he joined the recently formed Gladstones Solicitors based in Knutsford.
When pursuing appeals and disputes relating to parking charges on behalf of clients, Will recognised the serious inadequacies and considerable frustrations arising from existing procedures. In the absence of firm legal guidance for car park operators and continued confusion for motorists, he decided to explore the potential for creating an alternative approach that would help maximise the legal compliance of car park operators and improve the instructions and service standards for motorists. After a year and a half of exhaustive discussions with relevant stakeholders, the Department for Transport and the DVLA, agreement was reached to enable the formation of a new accredited trade association for the parking industry. After a probationary trial, full accreditation for The International Parking Community (IPC) was confirmed in 2014.
Car park images are credited to Darren Cool, with thanks… www.dcoolimages.com