Oakville drivers are finding more ways to pay for their mistakes — in a good way.

The southwestern Ontario municipality has turned to paytickets.ca to handle parking fine payments via the Web.

The move lets the town get its feet wet in electronic service delivery without making a huge investment,

says Gord Lalonde, Oakville’s IT director.

“”We thought it was a good way to step into this field.””

The municipality was approached by Teranet Inc. and the RBC Financial Group in 2001 to test out the service. No up-front payments were required, and the town pays only on a per-transaction basis, with Teranet hosting the software in its data centres.

Parking offenders can log on to the system through the town’s Web site, or directly through paytickets.ca. A handling fee is added to the total amount.

RBC markets the system along with other financial services, and Teranet supplies and supports the technology, based on its Unity commerce engine.

“”It’s a good-news story,”” says Mike Power, Teranet’s director of e-government services. Other Ontario municipalities have taken up the service, and through RBC’s affiliations south of the border, a number of U.S. towns and cities are considering signing on as well, he says.

“”It’s an important source of revenue for municipalities, and they were looking for more efficient ways to collect revenue through parking tickets”” says Jim Hart, senior manager for business segments with RBC Global Services.

But sometimes the success of e-government projects can be hard to measure.

In 2003, nearly 21 per cent of the more than 31,000 tickets handed out were paid online. That works out to more than $162,000 of the year’s tally of almost $960,000 in parking fines.

The numbers are good, but may not be good enough, taking into consideration the fees paid for every transaction, Lalonde says.

“”It kind of puts us on the cusp of payback.””

It’s a dilemma that shows the limits of thinking about e-government in purely financial terms. Residents appreciate the flexibility and may come to expect more from local governments, even if each service doesn’t always break even.

It’s a good idea to test small projects out first before making a big leap, Lalonde says.

He cautions against seeing online services as a simple way to save costs in other departments.

“”It’s very, very hard to track those kinds of things.””

The municipality has renewed the service until the end of 2004.

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