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Kingston upon Hull City Council is piloting mobile payment technology that will allow local people to pay for car parking charges via their mobile phones.
The council believes its cashless parking payment scheme is the first of its kind in the country. Officially launched on 18 April, the mobile micropayment system is being trialled by 200 users in 10 city centre car parks. Prospective users can register online or by telephone. To be eligible they must use city centre car parks at least twice a week and own a mobile phone.
Micropayments technology is designed to overcome the problem of the relatively high cost of processing small e-commerce payments. The operator holds the bank details of users and lets payments accrue so that they can be processed "in one lump". According to Martin Mancey, group director of Hull City Services, the mobile parking application is "easy and foolproof".
Motorists are given two payment options. If they have Wap a phone, they can key in responses to prompts asking them which car park they are using and how long they intend to leave their car there. Alternatively, they can register to use the voice system. This method uses voice recognition software which has been programmed to cope with local accents. In both cases, payment is debited from the user's bank account.
Cars taking part in the trial display special identity stickers, the validity of which are checked by traffic wardens wielding Ericsson R380 Wap-enabled phones.
The scheme has other benefits for users. Traffic wardens or car park attendants can alert car owners on their mobile phones if they have left their car lights on, their car alarm is sounding or they have forgotten to close their windows.
The system could also reduce the number of fines issued. When the amount of time left on a ticket is running low the system sends a message to the user's phone, prompting them to either top up their credit or return to their vehicle.
The council signed a partnership agreement with mobile phone firm Ericsson to develop the parking project and has also attracted sponsorship from network operator Vodafone.
The cashless parking scheme is part of the council's "Digital City Vision", the key aim of which is to make Hull one of the top 10 digital cities in the country. If the car parking scheme proves successful, the council hopes to develop further m-commerce applications for local government service provision.