Motorists were left confused and angry after trying to pay for parking in Birmingham city centre using their phones – only to discover the system had expired.
Council officials admitted the provider of pay-by-phone parking in Birmingham changed this week – but they had been unable to contact any existing customers.
Parkmobile, an international provider of cashless parking systems, took over the system in Birmingham on January 27 and the new payment scheme began on February 1.
However, registered users of the system were not notified in advance to warn them the system was changing.
The Birmingham Post understands that previous supplier, PayByPhone, refused a council request to contact registered customers via text in advance of the change.
Birmingham City Council has offered the option of paying for parking by phone since 2006.
Under Parkmobile, the increasingly popular service will be extended throughout the city.
One city centre worker who has parked using the phone system for several years said he was completely unaware the parking provider was changing. He tried calling the usual number on Monday morning, only to be told his number was not authorised.
He went to pay by cash and only then saw the new sign for Parkmobile, with new numbers to register and then use the system.
“I was in a rush, and it was certainly extremely confusing,” he said.
“You don’t always have the right information to hand.
"What’s annoying everyone is that there was no notification this was going to happen. They should have sent a text.”
He said the council’s “exorbitant” parking fees were bad enough without extra hassle.
The cost of parking by phone has also gone up slightly, with a 20p convenience charge for each transaction.
“It’s a bit like parking with Ryanair,” the city worker said. “Every cough and spit is charged as an extra.
"I think it should have been thought through a little bit more.
“I imagine that people who use the park by phone service are the most prolific users of the car parks.”
Julia Fuller, 44, works at the Computacenter in Birmingham and comes into the city centre for meetings.
She said the pay by phone system is “generally pretty efficient once you’re registered. I had to re-register and it was quite quick, although it’s expensive.”
A Birmingham City Council spokesman accepted there had been issues with the change that were beyond the council’s control.
“Without access to the customer database, we did do all we could,” he said.
“We’d like to apologise to any users of the system who have experienced difficulties.”
A source from Parkmobile said the firm usually sends a text message out to registered users when they take over the parking system, but that they were not provided with the necessary information.
It is understood the company distributed leaflets in Birmingham city car parks with information on the switch a week before they took over.
Parkmobile is already managing almost the same number of transactions as the previous supplier, the source told the Birmingham Post.
Parkmobile allows users to pay for parking online, by calling or through a variety of smart phone Apps.
Motorists who finish their business in the town centre before their parking time expires can now stop their parking session early and pay a reduced charge.
To enter the competition for free parking, motorists have to register before February 15 online, by calling 0203 003 2527 or via Apps downloads. The website is at www.parkmobile.co.uk.
Peter O’Driscoll, managing director of Parkmobile said: “Once started motorists can see the time they have left counting down and can opt to receive a reminder when their parking time is about to expire, substantially reducing the risk of ever getting a parking fine again.
“There is also the added benefit of being able to stop your parking early and potentially paying a lower parking cost if they finish their business early.”
PayByPhone said it did not want to comment on the allegations.
Councillor Timothy Huxtable, Cabinet Member for Transport, Environment and Regeneration, speaking about the launch of the new provider said: “It’s great that we will be able to offer visitors to anywhere in the City a choice of systems when paying for their parking.
“There are advantages to Pay by Mobile Phone parking especially not worrying about having the correct change and being able to extend parking time without needing to return to the vehicle. We hope that customers will appreciate the benefits of this service.”
The Birmingham Post revealed last month that companies in city centre claim business is being damaged and customers driven away by on-street parking restrictions.
It costs £5.40 for drivers to park for the maximum two hours in the inner city parking zone between 8am and 6pm, and in November last year the council also introduced evening and Sunday charges, with a maximum two-hour stay.