Councils improving online service elements, Better Connected says

Council online services for resident parking and roadworks are good and improving, says Better Connected.

Newly released results for these surveys show that 67% of London boroughs provide a good or very good service for those applying for resident parking permits, while 85% of county councils provide a good or very good service for finding out about roadworks.

Both services were tested on a mobile device. One county council and two London boroughs still have websites that are not optimised for mobiles, and following Better Connected practice, surveys were not completed for these councils.

 

Major issue

Parking is a major issue for residents in urban areas and applying for a resident’s permit for the first time requires proof of eligibility. Councils currently handle this is a variety of different ways. The Better Connected survey covers the usefulness of the information provided at different points in the process and how easy it is to apply online, from a mobile phone (on the basis that for many people today, mobile is the main or only personal access they may have to the internet). 82% of councils enable online applications, but only 39 have their forms optimised for mobile use, often because the application required use of a corporate forms portal where no forms were mobile optimised.

Services are improving however: last time Better Connected looked at parking permit applications was in 2014-15, when the task was about renewal rather than first time applications, 61% of London boroughs got the equivalent of today’s ‘good or very good’ score, with a less testing question set.

Some sties still indicate lack of consideration of the customer perspective. Timescales for processing the application and posting permits were only given in half of the sites that were fully reviewed. This overlooks a key preoccupation for new applicants struggling to park near their home, and is likely to lead to ‘avoidable contacts’ from applicants unsure of when they can expect to receive their permits. Some of the best parking services are using technology to overcome the need for physical permits or for there to be any delay between application and being able to use the permit.

Hackney, Redbridge, Richmond and Wandsworth were all cited for best practice on this task.

 

Roadworks

Visits to council websites about roadworks are part of the wider ‘mobility’ category (including parking, highways, streetworks, transport and buses) that is the single biggest reason people visit council websites after rubbish and recycling.  People are seeking up-to-date information about roadworks that will affect them for one off journeys, but particularly for long-running works that will be a part of daily or weekly routines for a several weeks.

There has been a dramatic improvement by county councils since the last time Better Connected conducted this test in 2014, when only 48% of them were designated the equivalent of good or very good.

A key factor then was overreliance on not very usable map-based information, and a lack of browseable lists, which can be a quick and useful alternative when using a mobile device in a poor signal area.

This time 85% have been designated good or very good, with 55% achieving the top mark. The difference is that most sites now embed the roadworks.org map and facilities into their websites to provide the information covered by the Better Connected question set, and individual and overall results are greatly influenced by how well this service has been integrated into the website.

Mapping on local authority websites has tended to be problematic from mobile devices but using the third party roadworks.org overcomes this, although it becomes more difficult to use when the map is embedded in a council site web page instead of being launched into a new window. Other shortcomings in implementing the service included failing to ensure the user landed on map in the local area, annot providing key information about how to use the map, providing information directed at highways professionals rather than road users, and not making it easy enough to sign up for email alerts.

Reviewers were disappointed that most councils no longer publish the roadworks register in a list format. For someone wishing to look up details of roadworks they are aware of this would still be the fastest route. The best sites offered both the list format and the map route.

Coverage by councils of major planned works was much better, with a wealth of information and photographs provided for some schemes. Use of Twitter was widespread with dedicated accounts for transport giving updates on current roadworks and live incidents.

County Councils recommended for this task were Devon, Hertfordshire, North Yorkshire and Northamptonshire.

Reports and ‘all council’ results from surveys can be found from  https://betterconnected.socitm.net/services and individual council scores from https://betterconnected.socitm.net/councils – both are free to view.

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