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The new technology of traffic ticketing

Written by Jim Moore

If people think getting a ticket—parking, speeding or other—is an unpleasant experience, they should consider the same transaction from the point of view of the person giving it: cumbersome hand-written forms, every kind of weather and potential danger in every interaction with an unhappy person. And how about the agency level: massive paperwork, tedious and expensive data entry, and legal concerns over inaccuracies.

The latest trend in mobile ticketing won’t necessarily make the experience any easier at the receiving end—but it’s making a huge difference for those issuing the tickets. The timely combination of rugged handheld computers and task-specific software is putting an end to the time-consuming, error-prone era of paper ticketing.

Consider these two examples of new technology actually doing what it’s supposed to: streamlining and improving inefficient processes.

Winnipeg Parking System

In 2005, the city of Winnipeg, Manitoba, automated its previously time-consuming and expensive parking system.

Historically, field officers in the Winnipeg Parking Authority (WPA) hand wrote an estimated 160,000 citations each year. Citations were sometimes misplaced, and residents avoided payments because of the lengthy, imprecise process. It was a classic example of an outdated process that was essentially broken; the effort to perform it was barely worth the results.

But by employing a combination of wireless-capable Trimble Recon rugged handheld computers with real-time wireless communications and customized T2 Flex software, the WPA turned the process around, not only making the process more cost-effective but actually recovering more than a half-million dollars in unpaid fines.

Claiming New Revenue—and Old

After ordering 50 new Trimble Recons, the WPA trained 12 field officers in just two weeks to use the handhelds and software. Now Winnipeg’s field officers can look up relevant data and issue citations in the field, with the data immediately entered into the system and transferred to the central office. The new system also helped the WPA generate bills for outstanding unpaid tickets. After implementing the automated system, the city issued 81,000 long-overdue invoices and recuperated $520,000 in back fines.

“People are now much more aware that tickets cannot be ignored,” said David C. Hill, chief operating officer of the WPA. “They no longer can merely wait for it to be lost in the system after a couple of months. The new system allows us to get much more clarity on the information we have and regain control of parking.”

Automated Citations in Portland

Another prime example of the mobile ticketing solution is taking place in Portland, Ore., where police officers write about 130,000 tickets a year. Until late 2005, the officers wrote conventional paper tickets that were sent over to the courts in a big envelope, where they were manually entered into the courts’ computer systems. Office staff at police headquarters collated the tickets by hand for a monthly tally of citations issued. No searchable database existed to find specific citation information.

Electronic ticketing has changed all that. The traffic division’s 45 officers now write electronic tickets using Trimble Recons equipped with Bluetooth and GPRS wireless cards. The new system saves time, both when the ticket is written and when it’s processed by the courts. Just as important, the system increases accuracy, reduces paperwork, and gives the Portland Police Bureau aggregate information on citations it can use to deploy officers to areas where accidents and violations occur most frequently.

Real-time Information

On a typical traffic stop, Portland traffic officers take from five to seven minutes if they have to hand-write a ticket. Electronic tickets can cut that time to as little as two minutes. A major factor in the time savings is the real-time wireless connection from the handheld back to headquarters. When officers make stops, they can enter the driver’s license and license plate numbers on the handheld. The system wirelessly transmits a query to the motor vehicle database. Officers can also query other databases such as the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) for warrants, stolen property and other information.

In most cases, it takes about six to 15 seconds to run the query. Then the software auto-fills form fields such as the driver’s address, height, weight and date of birth, along with vehicle information. Officers don’t have to enter the information manually, and because it comes directly from the motor vehicle database, the information is accurate.

Menus and Pick-lists

Once the driver and vehicle information is entered from the database query, the officer enters the location and the charges using simple pick-lists and check boxes. The mobile citation software organizes charges for common violations as well as those for pedestrian violations, equipment violations, parking violations and other categories.

For the Portland application, the software incorporates a database of motor vehicle laws from the Oregon Revised Statutes (ORS). When the officer selects the violation, the software automatically fills in the ORS number, the correct legal language and the base fine for that charge. If there are enhancements to the violation, such as if it happens in a school zone, the system adds the appropriate amount to the base fine. As with the driver’s license and vehicle information, the auto-fill process improves both speed and accuracy.

Transferring Tickets

When the citation is complete, the officer prints a hard copy for the driver using a Bluetooth-enabled mobile printer. The system also sends the citation data wirelessly from the handheld to servers for both the police bureau and the courts. That reduces paperwork, eliminates double data entry and makes the citation data readily available.

Minimal Training Required

Bill Sinnott, commander of the Traffic Division at the Portland Police Bureau, said the bureau is planning a two- to three-hour training session with officers as part of the implementation process. Part of the training will be for using the devices, as well as retraining on the handheld version of the department’s CAD portal. Because police officers helped develop the electronic citation software, Sinnott said he expected that officers would be able to adapt quickly.

Even officers unfamiliar with handheld technology have found it easy to use. “So far, we’re getting positive reviews from the officers who have used it,” he said. “It’s something they want.”

Jim Moore is a freelance writer and owner of Word Jones, a writing services company in Portland, Ore. He can be reached at jim@wordjones.com.

Published in Public Safety IT, May/Jun 2007

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