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 with providing a customer experience that is sensitive to the environment is no easy task.
Furthermore, 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.
And supporting her and her team in delivering their vision is parking technology specialist, WPS.
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
She explains: “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 carparks and staff carparks, 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 trust has opted for a Pay and Display system.
“Department of Health guidance recommends that ‘NHS organisations should consider Pay-on-Exit systems’. This is considered best practice and will improve the patient and visitor experience,” Brimblecombe said.
“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 carparks on site. Disabled badge holders and drop-off spaces were created outside entrances.
Alongside managing a portfolio of approximately 650 visitor parking spaces, the trust also had to accommodate large volumes - up to 1,100 spaces - of staff parking. And it had to achieve all of this while ensuring vital highways 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.
“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.
Brimblecombe 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 per day.
“The WPS systems have been configured accordingly to recognise the different charging bands.
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 the trust total discretion and control.
Thanks to the full TCP IP architecture of the WPS ParkAdvance systems installed, concessions can be easily accommodated.
Brimblecombe said: “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.”
“Certain wards. For example the cancer ward, ICU, can therefore validate tickets – creating daily or even weekly tickets – 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 abuse minimised.
Torbay Hospital manages to achieve the balance it needs, thanks to the flexibility of the WPS technology.
“WPS technology was not the cheapest solution,” Brimblecombe concedes, “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, the trust considered various options and suppliers. Among them was a system based on Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR).
Brimblecombe 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, but they were deemed too expensive to replace and easily lost. They also need to be hygienically cleaned to prevent the spread of infection.
Enforcement was another consideration.
Brimblecombe 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.
Parking is the first experience our patients and visitors have of our hospital. It needs to be as smooth, hassle-free and as comfortable as possible
“Today we have our own traffic team which works closely with the security team and an outsourced enforcement company so we retain control of any enforcement activity and have the final say on any appeal.”
And ease of use for any new parking system was essential. The systems needed to be easy to understand and operate.
When the new equipment was first installed, the trust had teams outside to show people how they worked. Now there is an intercom where people can speak to parking staff if necessary.
A particularly-challenging element of the new solution was to ensure smooth entry and exit for a large number of vehicles at peak times from a very-large staff carpark.
“WPS proposed a bi-directional lane,” Brimblecombe explains.
“We initially looked at the option of having four lanes - two in and two out - but this took up vital parking spaces. WPS instead 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.”
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 partner, 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.
Brimblecome 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 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.
And, while the payment terminals already take cash and cashless payments, more-recent payment methods can also be accommodated if required.