They Didn’t Pay – We Got Their Driver’s Licenses
Delora Siebrecht retired last year after nearly 30 years of service to the city of Urbana, IL. She graciously offered to write about her experiences “growing up” in parking. This is the second of a two-part article. Editor.
In Part 1 of “Three Decades of Changes” (PT November 2010), I explained that my parking career began at the Urbana, IL, Finance Department in 1981. At that time, the city’s parking office was using a mainframe computer database for parking tickets. Even with a computer to track issued and paid tickets, we were manually handling each ticket 10 times. Talk about time-intensive.
More hands-on work involved sending notices for unpaid tickets. Notices were printed on continuous forms and mailed biweekly. The clerks split the forms and prepared the mailing by hand, a job that took two days to complete. In 1983, the department purchased an electric burster that removed the side printer pull holes and split each form.
A redesign of the print format eliminated the carbon fly sheet that had to be removed by hand and updated programming printed the notices in Zip Code order, allowing us to qualify for bulk mail rates. The length of time to prepare notices decreased to three to four hours, a huge time savings and a cost savings on postage.
In 1983, Illinois passed a law allowing cities to suspend the driver’s license of the registered owner of a vehicle with 10 or more outstanding parking tickets.
Urbana was one of the first cities to adopt the state statute and suspend driver’s licenses for unpaid parking fines. Because the city used an in-house computer programmer, we were able to design software that did all of the date tracking and production of the required notices and letters.
Administering the suspension process was smooth, accurate and extremely successful. Our collection rate increased to approximately 90% and has stayed at that percentage for 25 years. Urbana became the model city using the suspension process. The state continues to refer all newcomers to the city for guidance in setting up the suspension process.
The really great aspect of collection by driver’s license suspension is no time limit on the suspension.
I handled many suspensions that were 15 years old. Usually in these cases, the person had been attending the university and moved out of state. They moved back to Illinois and applied for a driver’s license. Surprise, the suspension would still be on their license, and they would have to pay the city before they could get a valid license.
Another sweet moment was when the offender said they would have their attorney or state representative take care of the suspension. The legal process is such that the Parking Administrator – that would have been me – is in control of releasing the suspension; no one else can. Ah, the satisfaction of collecting those fines – $$$!
The use of personal computers and word processing was the next advance that changed our office workload. Around 1984, we started using Word Perfect, Lotus for spread sheets and Reflex to manage databases. These tools were a tremendous help in tracking ticket collection and revenue analysis. I could easily produce reports that showed our successes and where we needed to focus our collection efforts.
Micro-processors and the electronic issuance of tickets created major changes in managing parking tickets. The University of Illinois, home of the super computer, produces an unending supply of graduate students talented in computer science and eager to market their ideas at a low or no cost.
The school’s Campus Parking Division was working with a graduate student developing electronic hardware and software for issuing parking tickets. In 1987, the city contracted the same grad student at a very reasonable cost, and we started issuing electronic tickets. After smoothing out a few wrinkles in the process, we were issuing 90,000 tickets a year.
The electronic upload of issued tickets greatly reduced the paper handling and data entry for department clerks. Then, in 2005, online ticket payments gradually reduced the hands-on processing of ticket payments by half. I was able to focus my staff on collections and improved customer service.
The evolution of electronic ticket data and online ticket payments revolutionized how the department handles parking tickets. With information about a vehicle instantly available, parking enforcement officers participate in fine collection by immobilizing and towing vehicles with outstanding tickets. Offenders can clear their accounts quickly with the online payment of fines and fees. Sometimes, fines are paid by the time the officer calls in the boot information.
The focus now is finding more ways for customers to conveniently pay parking meters and avoid tickets. Through Duncan Solutions, the cities of Urbana and Champaign and the university partnered on developing one debit system that could be used with meters in all three entities. The CashKey program has been tremendously successful, and the department has been considering adding a pay by cell phone program.
When I accepted the Finance Department job with Urbana in 1981, I didn’t think I was moving into what would eventually become a bona fide profession, that of a parking professional. With America’s love for personal vehicles, the parking profession is now categorized: municipal, college/university, airport, hospital, garage operator, valet … and the parking profession is here to stay.
Delora Siebrecht can be reached at Delora3850@msn.com At an Urbana City Council meeting last year, the Mayor proclaimed June 11, 2010, as “Delora Siebrecht Day in honor of her service to the City in the Finance Department.”