Essex County Council improves driver experience while reducing PCN appeals
Essex County Council implemented a simple and accessible, one-touch portal for appealing and paying Penalty Charge Notices, thereby reducing the time and frustration for drivers, and relieving the burden on authority staff managing interactions.
Essex County Council began working with Imperial in 2016. Since then the authority has extended its use of bus lane CCTV enforcement to improve the reliability of public transport and safety of pedestrians. This has led to a marked increase in motorists complying with bus lane regulations and a dramatic improvement in back office efficiencies.
The authority implemented ChallengeSmarti in 2019.
Managing PCNs and resulting appeals is a significant drain on the highway team’s time. Despite best efforts, Andy Champ, Network Operations Manager for highways at Essex County Council says staff struggle to provide the information that drivers demand, making an emotional and challenging process more frustrating for all involved.
“Legislation directs that all correspondence between our team and the public must be in written form when dealing with PCN appeals. Sometimes this can give the driver the impression that staff are unwilling to help by having a quick conversation either over the phone or face-to-face. Already frustrated, when drivers then have to wait longer than they would like for a response it effectively throws fuel on the fire.
“This sense of frustration is mirrored in our staff, who are overloaded with appeals that each require sorting and individual responses.”
Noting that the majority of notices and appeals were similar in nature, Essex County Council and its technology partner Imperial identified an opportunity to improve the process, delivering faster responses and better visibility to drivers, while reducing the workload on authority staff.
“We wanted a technology solution that would break the communication barriers between our team and the public,” says Mr Champ.
Working with Imperial’s development team, Essex County Council was able to implement the ChallengeSmarti solution: an online portal from which all PCN appeals are filed electronically. The system is able to process all information relating to each individual case and can instantly advise whether an appeal is likely to be successful.
“ChallengeSmarti is so much better for drivers as it removes the element of doubt. When a driver is advised they are unlikely to win an appeal, they can see the video or photographic evidence for themselves. So they have assurance it is valid and tend not to blame the council – and can even pay there and then through the portal.”
Furthermore, the portal actually forms an educational role for drivers by explaining the reasons why appeals may be refused, reducing the likelihood of receiving similar notices in the future.
“The most common appeal we receive relates to the following of Sat Navs – but unfortunately this is not a valid reason for appeal. Therefore, ChallengeSmarti provides an educational service, offering the reasons for individual appeal decision.”
Meanwhile, the portal serves a vital function in terms of reducing interactions between drivers and the authority team: “Drivers can access picture and video evidence, which can often address unanswered questions that may otherwise fall on our already stretched staff.
“Not only have we saved valuable hours for our highways staff who have other jobs to do; the number of PCN appeals submitted has reduced by 30% due to the instant indication of success provided by ChallengeSmarti”.
This reduced workload has had a profound impact on the team:
“With new sites coming online shortly we were looking at a recruitment drive, but ChallengeSmarti has meant that we didn’t need to. Due to the time savings, we have been able to absorb the additional workload within the existing team.
“When managing PCN appeals you are not realistically going to receive positive feedback from drivers. However, the evidence of ChallengeSmarti is in efficiency savings of staff. They are no longer dealing with a confrontational, stressful – and actually often quite boring – process. The council has a strong focus on mental wellbeing – of both staff and the public – and this tool supports this by taking the stress away for all involved.”
- 30% reduction in the number of appeals
- Appeals take less time to resolve due to easy access to all relevant information
- Staff have more time to support those who need help
- Reduced stress for drivers and authority staff
- Fewer late PCN payments
Essex County Council:
- Serves a population of over 1.3 million
- One of the largest local authorities in England
- Has a total of 12 cameras enforcing 9 sites
The introduction of ChallengeSmarti has led to a 30% reduction in the number of PCN appeals.