Lynn's new parking ticket system affirms your violations

It's getting harder to fight parking tickets in Lynn.
news01.jpgThe bright orange tickets motorists often find tucked under their windshield wipers are gone, replaced by a slip of white paper containing information about the violation.

There are other differences.

The enforcement officers use a digital pen to electronically record information about the vehicle and the violation. They also take photographs of the license plate and, if necessary, the overall scene to show precisely where the vehicle is parked. The images are transmitted directly from the hand-held phone camera to the Parking Department database.

"It's hard to argue with a photo," said Jay Fenton, the city's parking director. "We had a guy come in here saying he hadn't parked near the fire hydrant, but one look at the photo and it was clear he was right next to it," said Fenton, noting the technology benefits the public and the department. "The system is very helpful in those situations."

The data collection, storage and potential retrieval all happens as fast as the parking enforcement officer can complete the procedure, a series of simple steps that require no long-term training.
"Within minutes of the ticket being written, the person can go on any computer and punch in the ticket number. They'll actually see an image of a duplicate ticket and it will show them the pictures," Fenton said.

The vCitePlus technology is often referred to as DPP, for digital pen and paper. The system captures and digitizes handwritten data using an Anoto pen without any rekeying.

If the person objects, an appeal can be filed online at Select "Parking" from the list of city departments and scroll down to where the electronic ticket number can be entered. Tickets can also be paid online. Those who choose to pay by mail must supply an envelope and stamp, since the new tickets are no longer integrated with a self-sealing, addressed envelope.

"For someone who truly doesn't want to pay the ticket, they will always argue, no matter what you put in front of them," Fenton said. "But the average person, if we have pictures and they take the time to go online to have a look, they're going to pay the ticket.

"It's a better system and does a lot for us. It keeps our records current, provides a lot of information and we now have pictures associated with the violations. That tends to limit the number of hearings and appeals. So in that sense, it cuts down on work. In the long run, it's likely that revenue will improve for just those reasons."

Parking enforcement officers have been trained to use the equipment, which went into use in late March. The citation-management system was purchased from Velosum, based in Sandy, Utah. The city bought five digital pens and five cameras that function like cell phones in that they are capable of sending images to a data center. The five units cost $15,000, according to Fenton, who emphasized other available technology is far more expensive.

Each camera can take up to nine photos of the vehicle in violation, the images tagged with the GPS location that gets attached to the citation.

"That cost includes everything but the paper tickets, which we have to buy. The company provides the digital integration and training, and we have to pay for a portal license and a monthly maintenance fee," he said.

While motorists in Lynn may see the new system as yet another example of advanced technology used to squeeze dollars from their purses, it pales compared to the video eye scans recently installed in Newton.

The panoramic video cameras scan parking spaces or, more specifically, the license plate of the automobile parked in the space. The software records how long the car or truck has been parked and, if for instance the two-hour limit has elapsed, an alert sounds in the enforcement officer's vehicle, prompting them to write a ticket.

Newton officials paid $50,000 for three cameras with accessories and plans are under way to install them in parking enforcement vehicles during May. It has been estimated the technology can double the number of parking tickets annually issued in Newton, increasing the $1.8 million in parking revenue that the city currently collects.

In Lynn, the parking enforcement officers will continue to walk their beats, or ride in the event of inclement weather.

"We looked at a system like Newton's back when John Suslak was chief of police, mostly to identify parking scofflaws and for booting vehicles. That's now how Newton is using it," said Fenton. "In the end, we didn't buy it. Communities that have a system like Newton's primarily use it for law enforcement."

Fenton said only five communities in Massachusetts have technology-based parking enforcement systems up and running, although more are scheduled to implement them. "The number of communities using this system in the entire country is only in the mid-20s," he said.

Brookline began using the Velosum system in December. 
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