A new era for parking tickets

The handwritten parking ticket, a common sight under windshield-wiper blades for about as long as cars have clogged Boston streets, is about to become a relic.

By month's end, all 162 city parking-enforcement officers will be equipped with handheld computers that print easy-to-read tickets on waterproof paper.
boston_globe.gifOver the decades, countless motorists have been dismayed to find the handwritten citations, and then have had to decipher the scrawl and the checked-off boxes to figure out what they had done wrong. For some, the old-fashioned tickets have been their saviors -- illegible writing or data-entry errors helped them beat the citations. For others, summoned for not paying tickets that weren't really theirs, goofs have caused much grief.

Boston's Transportation Department says the new ticket machines will fix those troubles.

''It really minimizes the potential for mistakes," said Tom Tinlin, acting transportation commissioner. ''This takes out the human error factor. Any time you are writing something down, it's only as good as the penmanship or the pen in your hand."
parking_ticket_01.gifThe new machines are also expected to save the city money by eliminating the tedious data entry required to get handwritten tickets into a computer system.

Parking officers will now punch all violation details into their mobile ticket machines, which weigh 2 pounds and are about the size of a typical hardcover book. When their shifts end, officers deposit the devices into stations that recharge batteries and upload the day's citations into the computer database used to track payments and appeals.

The Transportation Department, which has 76 ticket machines in use and is expecting the remainder from German manufacturer Schweers Technologies Inc. later this month, is paying for the $2,500 devices from the cost savings derived from eliminating data entry.

''They will pay for themselves the first day they're on the street," Tinlin said.

Boston is behind the times on modernizing how it issues parking tickets. These types of ticket-printing machines have been in use across the country for many years. But, Tinlin said, the Hub will now benefit from an improved version.

''A lot of other cities were using it, and the technology had advanced in such a way that we became more comfortable with it," he said.

Some parking officers have been using the machines for about a year in a pilot program to test the equipment and refine the software for Boston's numerous parking rules.

''I like it more than the old paper tickets," said Karen Fernandes, an enforcement supervisor who was among the first to get the Politess machine.

''It takes a little longer to issue a ticket this way, but it's hard to mess up. If I forget to input something, it won't let me print the ticket," she said one morning last week while punching out tickets for vehicles parked illegally on Cambridge Street outside City Hall.

To issue a citation, an officer uses a stylus to fill in various fields on the screen, including license plate number, type of vehicle, color, make, model, location, and type of offense. Then the machine displays a summary for the officer to verify before it spits out a citation on receipt-style slick paper that can withstand rain and snow.

One thing that won't change is the neon orange envelope that accompanies the ticket.

In the fiscal year that ended June 30, officers slapped 1.5 million of those payment envelopes on vehicles throughout the city. Parking infractions generated $62.4 million for Boston last fiscal year.

Jim Mansfield, a Transportation Department spokesman, said 65,000 tickets, about 4 percent, were dismissed by mail without owners having to show up at a hearing. Another 15,000, or 1 percent, were appealed at a hearing and 61 percent of those were tossed. Mansfield said he didn't have a figure on how many of the dismissed tickets were due to writing or data input errors.

The machines will also help officers keep track of vehicles parked in zones that have time limits but no meters. Now, officers scribble license plate numbers and times onto the back of ticket pads. With the new machine, an officer can punch in the plate number, and the computer automatically records the time. If an officer returns to that block a few hours later and types in the same plate number, the machine will flash a violation alert.

After the hand-written ticket vanishes from Boston streets, the traditional parking meter is next. The Transportation Department is soliciting proposals to start replacing the city's 7,000 standard meters with high-tech versions that can cover numerous spaces and take money in different ways.

''People driving around with a tray of quarters, that's another obsolete way of doing business," Tinlin said. ''With these new meters, you'll be able to use credit cards, debit cards, dollar bills -- and the old-fashioned coins."
The Boston Globe
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