An automated ticketing enforcement system is helping the City of Vancouver increase revenues, catch scofflaws and cut down on fraud.

Two years after Brent Heisler, the program’s administrator, was issued its first ticket, city staff are estimating an annual benefit of $235,000 through to 2007, increasing to $393,000 for each subsequent year.

Vancouver’s parking attendant force has been equipped with 81 handheld SPT 1733 PDAs produced by Symbol Technologies and Cameo3 printers from Zebra Technologies. Epic Data provides the TicketManager software.

With their PDAs, parking enforcement officers can access in real-time ticket and vehicle infraction history as well residential parking permit registrations, all stored on a TicketManager server. The software’s drop-down menus cut down the time and energy required to issue tickets and also help attendants enforce Vancouver’s parking laws.

“The impact to enforcement is huge,” Heisler said. “They (enforcement officers) get the number of outstanding tickets to a vehicle. If it’s a certain amount, they can impound it. It’s a great motivator for people to pay their tickets.”

Heisler said as word of the ability to track repeat offenders who neglect to pay their tickets has spread, compliance has improved. The city reports increased revenues of $300,000 from tickets that would go to court if left unpaid.

“In the past in Vancouver, people who collect hundreds of tickets keep them in their glove compartment and then got new plates,” said Jim Korchinski, area sales manager for Epic Data International Inc., whose system is also being used by city governments in Victoria and White Rock, B.C. “Because the offender knows their info is available in real time, they’re less likely to offend.”

With a one-way feed to the Vancouver Police department, information on car tickets is transmitted where it can be cross-referenced with vehicles reported missing or stolen. Currently, transmission to police is on a 24-hour delay, but will soon be in real-time, Heisler said.

The TicketManager system is also helping Vancouver, which began the process of automating its ticketing and enforcement system five years ago, cut down on fraud, both large and small. The more minor fraud concern are called “courtesy cancellations,” where enforcement officers will decide to not issue a ticket — for example, if the car’s owner comes running out of store claiming they were just going to get change. The TicketManager system allows enforcement officers to learn if the person had recently used the same excuse with another officer or has a habit of making such claims.

“It’s very common and the interesting thing is that they track in real-time, so you could have multiple cancellations in a single day and you could see a pattern,” Korchinski said.

The larger fraud involves illegal use of parking permits. Residents of an area with limited on-street parking apply for permits they do not need and then sell them to others who work in the area at a steep premium. This trade involves as much as 15 per cent of permits issued, according to the city.

“That sort of fraud is huge and it puts all our stats out of whack as to what areas we should designate as permit parking,” Heisler said.

The TicketManager system allows enforcement officers to immediately see if the permit is in fact registered to that vehicle, resulting in ten towed vehicles daily.

“There was a kind of black market on permits,” Korchinski said. “It was one of the things they didn’t expect but it was something that allowed them to pay back the system immediately.”

Vancouver has experienced a few snags with the TicketManager system, mainly network problems caused by extreme weather or overload on Sept. 11, 2001. As well, city’s attempt to print tickets that could be supported by banking institutions was drowned out by the Pacific Northwest climate.

“It was a disaster,” Heisler said. “The stock absorbed the water. It was very susceptible to problems.”

Vancouver switched to a synthetic paper and gave up on the banks, as only seven per cent of tickets were being paid there. The city is also planning to expand its automated parking system to allow payment of meter charges by cell phone and equip enforcement officers with handheld units that can take pictures of cars in violation of city parking bylaws.

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