Technology Upgrades Should Be Customer-Focused
A city filled with history leads with high tech parking solutions
By Gina Fiandaca
For many years, the city of Boston has been the nation’s leader in the development and execution of new customer-focused technology. Boston, for example, was the first city to provide pay-by-web services, which dramatically changed the landscape of how customers pay their parking tickets.
Boston also was one of the first cities to use an automated approach to create a paperless environment. This allowed all staff members to review correspondence and web-related activity from a single source, thereby saving the city significant paper costs and having a positive impact on the environment.
Since then, Boston has broadened online applications to include: renewals of residential stickers online, dispute resolution forms, temporary residential rental applications, pay-by-web, and an online portal. These implementations enable customers to gain access to information about a parking ticket, receive an alert when their residential sticker is about to expire, and determine if their vehicle is on the “Boot and Tow” list.
Other major changes include the introduction of:
License plate recognition (LPR) provides valuable information that can ascertain a boot-eligible vehicle or an invalid resident sticker; “persons of interest” can be sent dynamically to the correct department.
Handheld devices are used to not only write parking tickets, but also maintain residential stickers in neighborhoods and enforce the valet program for all restaurants and businesses that require a valet zone. Handhelds make it easier than ever by scanning the barcode on each vehicle’s inspection sticker, which reduces using keystrokes.
Kiosks allow for a centralized area where automated payments can be made. Kiosk payments can be made for parking tickets and booted and/or towed vehicles without the need for any staffing requirements.
Using the Web
Web applications must be at the forefront of most technologies and should be ranked as a city’s primary goal. Web products have streamlined Boston’s operation, which has saved the city a great amount of time and
many tax dollars over the years. Consequently, Boston operates
with less staff today than it did five years ago.
Some of the web applications that have been implemented are:
Online Resident Parking Application
All resident stickers can be obtained over the Internet. This application provides either a new permit or renewal. Bills are scanned and sent with the application. The city uses an online system in conjunction with the state Registry of Motor Vehicles to verify permit requests. Automated emails are sent to inform the consumer that their request was received and when they will receive their permits in the mail.
Online Constituent Dispute Form
Parking tickets can be disputed over the Internet, and the online system provides the customer with access to valuable information. As with scanning resident stickers, the city also accepts images as part of a claim.
Online Rental Agreement – Temporary Resident Permits
This totally automated process sends a permit with a barcode to the rental applicant, which they place on the vehicle for verification. These data are then transferred to the handheld devices to confirm that the vehicle is registered with the rental process.
Online Parking Notification Portal
This allows consumers to register each of their vehicles via a secure method and allows access to only pre-identified individuals. The online portal provides
notification when parking tickets are incurred and when penalties are assessed. It informs a customer if his vehicle is boot-eligible, and is capable of sending a copy of the notice. Bostonians also receive a reminder email of when their resident stickers will expire.
Boston Meter Cards
All meter cards can be purchased online in many different
types of denominations, and used at 7,800 meters
throughout the city.
Boston’s flagship payment system allows for all parking t ickets to be paid over the Internet. This first-in-the-nation s ystem was launched in 1999.
All products are unique to Boston’s paperless online
system, which allows for all transactions to be reviewed and transferred using a workflow application. Any correspondence or decisions are made through this system, eliminating the need for manual review of mail, greatly reducing labor-intensive constituent dispute processing procedures.
Today, everything is scanned or brought in from the Internet and then centralized for multiple staff to review. Payments made by web have increased substantially over the years and make up 52% of all payments. This means the other payment types, such as lockbox (23%), in person (21%) and pay-by-phone (3%) are fast becoming obsolete.
Major Technology Shift
The implementation of LPR technology captures important information from every vehicle. These data are sent to a “router” in the city vehicle. The vehicle sends data to enforcement as well as to the core application at a city location.
Additionally, by splitting the traffic, this app enables the city to provide real-time lookups to ensure that the most accurate data possible are collected, in order to make up-to-the-minute decisions.
From the beginning, Boston built upon early processes and consistently improved hardware, software and handheld technology.
The city wanted a handheld, for example, that could improve the efficiency and effectiveness of operators. Each is coupled with the ability to decipher how a ticket is written. With more than 81 plate types in Massachusetts, this is crucial.
When a ticket is issued, specific logic goes through a rigorous algorithm that was built for just this purpose. This ensures, from an analytical standpoint, that the plate is the correct one. This step takes just a matter of seconds, but it identifies the plate with 100% accuracy.
Handheld enhancements over the years also have included:
• Color photos of violations.
• Barcode reader that scans the inspection sticker and reduces keystrokes for the enforcement officer.
• Quick buttons that allow the officer to toggle to different menus quickly.
• One of fastest hardware processors in the market today.
The U.S. is on the verge of providing unparalleled information with new and improved data-mining tools. These will provide reports and data via a tablet device or smartphone.
Boston currently uses the SAP/HANA platform and has cataloged more than 1,000 report types over the past decade. We in the Office of the Parking Clerk have reduced this to approximately 100 reports with a dedicated report writer that can supply any report we need on-demand.
The city can now handle FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests that can be submitted in days, instead of weeks and months, because we do not need to combine data from other reports that are outdated. As technology and tools change, Boston is determined to stay at the forefront of progress.
Gina Fiandaca, Director of the Office of the Parking Clerk for Boston, can be reached at Gina.Fiandaca@cityofboston.gov.
Article Abstract from August, 2013