Magazine

Citations: You Can Collect Them All

Dan Howald

If you’re not doing better than you were five years ago, it’s time to take action.

Once upon a time in the parking industry, some people paid their parking tickets dutifully, and some people did not. Sometimes, reasonable effort was made to chase down those who didn’t pay; sometimes, there was little effort.

Municipalities collected what they could, found a point at which the effort to collect wasn’t worth what was going to come in, and basically let the rest go.

Yes, the parking ticket, even as it represented municipal authority and municipal revenue, was a humble creature. If you got one and you paid it, great. If you got one and didn’t pay it, or you forgot about it, chances are whoever issued it would eventually forget about it too.

That once upon a time seems like ancient history now. Over the last five or six years, there has been a sea change in the way municipalities view what is owed to them in the way of parking tickets, and in the way people who are served with tickets can resolve them.

The once humble parking ticket is finally beginning to get the respect it deserves. Not only for the weight of the issuing authority that it represents, but also for what it bring to the municipal bottom line. Today, municipalities have more and better tools for, and a better attitude about, collecting what they are owed in parking fines. How did this happen?

The answer lies in the harsh lights that shine on municipal economics, and in the smart application of technology in the parking industry. These two forces joined to create an overall shift in the way ticket obligations, and tickets as a source of revenue, are viewed.

While it is fair to say that most municipalities have never had annual budgets that covered everything they could imagine, things got far more desperate as the bursting of the dot.com bubble rippled through the economy in the late 1990s. Budgets were slashed; services were cut; every line item in the budget was scrutinized and scrubbed. Where could new revenue be generated to close the gaps?

One easy answer for many municipalities was parking tickets. So much was going uncollected, it was reasoned, that if even a conservative dent could be made in the overall percentage of unpaid tickets, this would help the revenue side of the budget enormously. Soon, that idea turned into a new (and needed) budget line item: incremental revenue from better collection on parking citations. A new era of importance for the unpaid parking ticket was born!

Fortunately, technological advances being pioneered within the parking industry were tracking with this change in attitude, for they would be needed. As budgets dwindled and belts were being tightened, municipal employees who weren’t let go were being asked to take on more work and to wear several more hats. Tasks such as wading through mountains of parking ticket paperwork became the 800-pound gorilla of many municipal offices: Although revenue needed to be collected to satisfy the budget, the labor required to get it done just wasn’t available.

Technology (parking ticket management software) and outsourcing (a technology-enabled solution that includes software and management services) of the entire parking ticket operation came into greater focus as an option. Whereas some municipalities previously wanted to keep everything “in house” to keep costs down, it soon became evident to many what some early-adopters had known for years – the price you pay for a professional solution can (and should) more than pay for itself in additional revenue generated.

Municipalities were discovering that there was revenue not only in reducing their “normal” percentage of uncollected tickets, but in using these available services to clear backlog and to go after the out-of-state ticket recipient – the latter being one that to this day is routinely (and incorrectly) written off as a lost cause.

Violators began to see that the parking ticket they used to be able to dismiss as an inconvenience was being taken seriously by its issuer; persistent noticing services made this possible. All of this has been enabled by technology innovatively applied to the once-humble parking citation.

Technology has not only helped make the parking ticket office more efficient, but it also is revolutionizing the “customer” side as well. Today, it’s possible to pay parking fines via phone or Internet using a credit card. Municipalities have found this idea can be turnkey and painless to incorporate when used as part of an outsourced solution; they get better results and better relations with the public for providing a real convenience. And the entire parking industry has found that, lo and behold, if you make it easy for people to pay … many more of them will!

The result has been an overall shift in the way the very concept of a parking ticket is viewed. For municipalities, parking ticket revenue has shifted from a nice-to-have to an important part of planned revenue. For violators – the customer, if you will – the parking ticket has become something that’s less of a nuisance and a penalty, and more of an obligation that they can resolve and cross off their to-do list easily and on their own time.

Nonetheless, we still see, and will continue to see, reports of municipalities large and small with unspeakably high outstanding ticket receivables – from thousand of dollars in small towns to tens of millions of dollars in large cities. It doesn’t have to be that way!

Today, some people still dutifully pay their parking tickets, and some still do not. With municipal-revenue needs being carefully calculated – and high-quality professional ticket-management solutions available – there is no reason that the “some who do not” shouldn’t be an increasingly smaller percentage.



Dan Howald is a marketing consultant in the parking ticket management industry. He can be reached at howalddan@aol.com.

Article Abstract from February, 2008




Innovolt Parking Today Subscribe BANNER