The question facing NHS Trusts is often one of whether the car parking operation should be seen as a cost to be concerned about, particularly as securing funding is becoming increasingly challenging, or if parking should be seen as a potential investment that supports their income and yields a return.
At NCP, we believe that it should be viewed as the latter.
Car parking presents an opportunity for NHS Trusts to make use of existing assets to generate a return that can be invested in patient care to the benefit of the whole community.
While this cannot come at the cost of over-charging patients, staff or visitors, we believe a balance can be struck by ensuring those who use car parking facilities see value in the price they pay.
The challenge for many Trusts is the cost of updating and improving car parking and the ongoing investment required to maintain standards.
Many use out-dated equipment and payment methods – often offering only cash-upfront or timed payments, which can cause a variety of issues for those who must use them. This is in contrast to the modern retail car parking environment, for example, where the customer experience is about getting them closer to where they want to be.
Frustrations include paying in cash only, worrying about over-stays and potentially incurring a penalty, plus the stress of finding a parking space, all while there may be far bigger issues for customers to be concerned with – their health or the health of a loved one or patient.
Working with an established, trusted brand which has invested millions of pounds in developing tools to make the car parking experience seamless can assist in overturning these years of under-investment.
Adopting pre-book for those who have planned visits to hospitals or clinical facilities enables customers to be assured that they will have a space when they arrive, as well as lowering the environmental impact of drivers “circling” as they seek a space.
Introducing technology-based payment solutions means that visitors have a less fraught experience.
Not only does this make payments simple and straightforward as an alternative to cash, these solutions also offer the ability to pay post-event, meaning that when they are in a rush and have others things to worry about, parking takes its rightful place on visitors’ lists of concerns.
Furthermore, by making payments simpler – for example by implementing Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) technology – NHS Trusts can reduce incidents of non-compliance, which can lead to penalties being issued by over-zealous operators and hence understandable ill-will. NCP’s experience is that, as the ease of compliance increases, the issue of under- or non-payment falls dramatically.
While these improvements – which an established operator like NCP offer – are one set of solutions available to NHS Trusts, there are more extensive investments that a business like ours can offer.
At their simplest, these might include support in the quality of car park design – ensuring they are easy to use, secure spaces for visitors that offer safe, well-lit environments for sometimes vulnerable users.
More ambitiously, where space and planning allow, operators can work with the Trust to deliver new multi-storey facilities on land previously used for surface parking that not only dramatically increases capacity, but also frees-up land and allows capital to be deployed for clinical facilities.
Partnering with established operators offers the opportunity to create a lease product that will attract external investment or use what are termed “income strip deals”. While this relies on working with businesses that have a strong covenant and financial stability, NHS Trusts can realise the value of car parking over a long-term agreement.
Under these leases, land is offered to an operator on a long-term (often 35 year) agreement in return for an agreed income. This also removes the exposure to the life-cycle maintenance costs for the Trust.
At the end of the lease term the land is “sold back” to the NHS Trust for a pre-agreed token sum. This allows an operator to invest in building the car park, installing technology and operations over the long term, whilst an NHS Trust benefits from the delivery of new parking facilities at nil capital cost.
Through this broad variety of solutions, partnering with an established car parking operator with shared values ensures that customer care is at the core of decision-making and operations, and can yield a variety of benefits if NHS Trusts believe that car parking can be an investment rather than a cost. Working with NCP can realise that opportunity.