Public sector communications excellence awards – platinum winner: Faced with a need to save money and generate new income, Reigate and Banstead Borough Council set out to see if changing people’s parking habits could help contribute to the council’s ambitious financial targets.
Katherine Lloyd, Communications Business Partner for Campaigns, explains how they used insight, engaging content and nudge behaviour change techniques to make a difference.
Like many councils, we are facing a significant financial challenge. Our central government funding will ultimately be removed completely and as a result we have an ambitious aim to become a financially self-sufficient council by 2020. This means we need to find innovative and creative ways to save money and generate income, while protecting frontline services for residents. We decided to explore whether we could make savings by encouraging more people to use RingGo, our cashless parking provider. The facility had been available in the borough since 2009 but only had a 15 per cent uptake. As parking machines and cash handling present a cost to the council, we set ourselves an objective of increasing uptake to 25 per cent and reducing the amount of money spent on maintaining cash parking facilities in our town centres.
We started by using Mosaic data to profile our customers, looking at their driving habits and mobile phone usage. The research indicated that a high proportion of our customers would be willing and able to use smart phone technology so we were confident that they would be open to using their phones to pay for parking. The research also revealed that our customers come from a range of demographics, locations and socio-economic backgrounds. As a result we recognised that we needed to target any campaign materials to them at the point of transaction, so we created adverts to display in our car parks and ran ‘RingGo explainer days’ which involved representatives visiting all of our car parks to explain how cashless parking works and the benefits. We also created small promotional cards to advertise the facility which could be handed out by parking attendants.
In addition to placing our campaign materials to reach our audiences, we needed to develop messaging that was timely and relevant at the point of transaction. To help, we used research from RingGo, which outlined the benefits of cashless parking and some of the barriers that people might face in adopting it. This helped us to refine our key messages, and we decided to focus on the speed, ease and efficiency of cashless parking. We also timed our campaign for when cashless parking would be most convenient for people - in winter when people would not want to be standing outside waiting to pay for their parking, and when they were Christmas shopping. We emphasised that cashless parking gave residents more flexibility over how long they could stay looking for the perfect present, which helped to illustrate the relevance of the service.
We supported our point of sale campaign with promotional activity across our social media channels, including targeted Facebook advertising, as well as placing articles in local magazines, on our website, through the council newsletter and in messages to our employees – many of whom use the local car parks themselves.
We also experimented with nudge theory – trialling whether we could change people’s behaviours by making a simple change to something in their environment. We decided to remove several of our cash parking machines from service, wrapping them instead in RingGo promotional advertising with a clear call to action to sign up. We wanted to explore whether removing the ready availability of parking machines would encourage more people to use the cashless parking service, although we always made sure that at least one cash parking option remained available in all our car parks.
The campaign success far exceeded our expectations. We have recorded a 119 per cent increase in new RingGo users in the six months since the campaign launched and there has been a 47 per cent increase in the number of parking sessions booked through RingGo. Crucially, the campaign has helped our commercialisation ambitions as we have actually generated more than £125,000 in savings and additional income. This includes a £64,000 saving due to the reduction in the number of cash machines needed in car parks, £5,680 saved by a reduction in the levels of cash processing required, and interestingly, an increase in the length of time people were parking their cars for, creating an increase in income of £56,000. The evidence suggests that this new way of paying for parking not only changed how people paid, it also changed their spending and habits which was fascinating to see. Considering we started with a budget of just £3,000 to deliver all of this activity, this work recorded a return on investment of 1:46 – money than can now be reinvested back into protecting frontline services for residents. What is more, savings and income generation from this campaign are expected to continue into the future.
Why it worked / how we’re sustaining it
Effective partnerships were an important part of the campaign’s success. We had good relationships with the council’s parking team which helped us to gain better insight into the parking habits of our local communities, while our positive relationship with RingGo also helped us to widen the reach of our campaign by sharing materials through their channels, and understanding the benefits of the system in greater detail. The campaign also had a very clear, simple call to action which helped residents understand what they needed to do and greatly assisted us in being to measure its success.
At the start of the campaign we assumed that people would understand that they could pay for their parking directly through the RingGo app rather than via the phone number but during our explainer days it became clear that wasn’t actually the case. We adapted our messaging to emphasise the app in the second wave of the campaign, but the experience illustrated the importance of not assuming knowledge. The incredible success we saw also proved that innovation really can help to meet the ambitious cost saving and income generation targets that all councils are facing. This campaign proved that there are lots of ways to save and make money which might not always be obvious, and may not initially seem like areas with big financial reward. We learned the importance of thinking creatively and being brave enough to try new things – even with a small budget.
Want to know more?
For more information please contact Katherine Lloyd, Communications Business Partner for Campaigns, at Reigate and Banstead Borough Council.