Sunday, September 20, 2009

Another Way Anchorage, Alaska Can Close Its Budget Deficit: Provo, Utah Has Automated Their Parking Ticket Procedure Using Velosum Technology

The administration of Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan is working hard to close the large budget deficit bequeathed to the city by former spendthrift mayor Mark Begich (Begich got considerable help from the "Socialist Six" on the Anchorage Assembly). They've even uncovered a significant long term error in the calculation and dispersal of overtime payments to city employees.

But Dan Sullivan has also reached out to the greater community for additional ideas on how to make Anchorage financially solvent once again. And so I have found one idea, already successfully implemented by another city, which could make at least a modest contribution towards resolving the budget gap without impinging upon due process the way the late and unlamented photo radar program did.

On September 20th, 2009, the Salt Lake Tribune reports that the city of Provo, Utah became one of 12 cities to have successfully implemented a program which automates much of the process for writing parking tickets at considerable savings to the city. The system, manufactured by Velosum, which is based in nearby Sandy and thus provides JOBS FOR UTAHNS, is equipped with a camera and a Bluetooth connection wired within a camera-equipped pen that allows parking officers to instantaneously transmit parking citations to the court's computer system. Velosum documented the history of the Provo case study HERE.

The officer enters the violation on specially-coded ticket paper. The ticket is printed over a microdot pattern readable by the pen's camera, so it knows which box the officer is checking off. Data is then entered into the appropriate fields in the court computer. The camera can also read the officer's writing. The ticket also allows the officer to check off multiple violations, saving time and paper. After writing the ticket, and taking pictures of the car and how it is illegally parked with a cell phone camera, the officer checks a send box on the paper ticket, which transmits information from the pen to the phone and on to the computer system. The original copy of the citation is attached to the violator's vehicle.

In addition, the city of Provo had Velosum specifically tailor the system so it can also alert an officer if someone has four or more outstanding tickets, which means the car gets towed. Violators can pay tickets either online or in person; violators can also contest tickets either online or in person. This assures an adequate balance between parking enforcement and due process.

A BYU Daily News video from June 2009 offers more background:

Cost of the system: Initial one-time investment of $25,000, augmented by a $100 monthly operating fee for each phone-pen combination, and a 35-cent fee for each citation processed. That 35-cent fee contrasts most favorably with the 70 percent of citation funds extracted by the Arizona contractor who operated Anchorage's photo radar system (which, by the way, was another Begich brainchild).

Effects to date: The new system has improved the city's bottom line. Provo is now collecting on 87 percent of its citations, compared with only 67 percent two years ago. The city's records show parking ticket revenue going from $358,760 in the 2007-2008 budget year to an anticipated $660,000 in the 2010 budget. Part of the increase is attributable to the fact that the system also links up with the national motor vehicle databases, allowing the city to track down out-of-state drivers. The old system only accessed Utah records. Provo, a city of 118,581 (2008 estimate), issues approximately 1,200 parking tickets per month.

Anticipated future uses: Provo is also mulling over plans to use the technology to crack down on gangs. The system will allow officers to better track gang members and incidents, utilizing the systems ability to pinpoint locations on a Google map. While commendable in intent, this latter solution has some civil liberties implications which must be quantified in advance.

Use in Alaska: It would seem like only Anchorage has a sufficiently large and dense population to initially try this solution out in the Last Frontier. Other cities may be too small to generate adequate revenue to effectively profit from the investment. One potential problem is how the ink jet cartridges in the pens will function in extreme Alaska cold; the company appears to have had an issue with cold weather operations back in 2007.

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