Some very powerful financial interests are trying to move us towards what they call The Cashless Economy. What they mean is that every transaction should involve the payment of a fee to a service provider.
They are getting closer to their goal. This morning, I drove into Brighton city centre, a place where parking spaces are normally very hard to find. But in the street where I wanted to park, there were hardly any cars. What’s happened? I wondered. A bomb scare?
The answer was less exciting. The City council is rolling out a Cashless Parking scheme, street by street. They are uprooting the old kerbside Pay machines and putting up signs telling you how to use an App or a phone (plus a credit card) to pay. Good news for the scrap metal merchants and the signmakers but not for car users, who have clearly all driven away from this street in search of one where cash is still accepted.
Who wants to use a phone and credit card to pay £1 for one hour’s parking? You can’t even do it sitting in your car, because the signs are all placed facing away from the kerb and you need to read the one nearest you to identify the six-digit number which identifies your parking location. Doh!
I guess the Council has decided it can save money ( = make money) on this new scheme. I am sure they have been quoted some very impressive but not disinterested figures. Of course, there are savings on emptying cash from machines and repairing them when they go out of order. But the new system involves a lot of software – traffic wardens have to be supplied with rolling updates of which car parked where has paid its fee – and (at the moment) it involves a lot of people answering phones – though I guess the idea is eventually to make us all use Apps and contactless cards.
But the new system is vulnerable to glitches which will mean Parking Tickets slapped on the windows of vehicles for which the parking fee has in fact been paid. And, at the moment, it’s vulnerable to consumer resistance.
But this is not the real issue. The real issue is that a powerful business lobby is setting out to stop people using cash for small transactions. It sees a money-making opportunity by forcing us into electronic card land for everything.
When I refuel on the motorway, I pay by card. The service stations are geared up for it and the sum of money involved may be greater than the sum in my wallet. When I do a big supermarket shop, I will use a card. But when I sit down somewhere for a coffee, I pay cash. It’s convenient and efficient of my time. And to use a card feels insulting. To be honest, if I used a card I would feel like a timewaster.
The best way to protect the cash economy is to use the cash economy. Unfortunately, there is probably no way to persuade Brighton and Hove City Council to reverse its policy; it's not that sort of council.