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Weekly series “Innovate, please!” analyze existing products and companies that lack innovation in order to meet demand, beat their competition or simply compete against time.

 

I have always wondered — why people choose to become parking citation officers. They must have karma built from granite rocks. If you leave a ticket under the windshield, car owner will hate you. Sometimes even too much.

But amazingly, even if you’re just passing by and people see you, they’ll still hate your guts! Even pedestrians who don’t own cars!

And on top of that the city gives you this:

It’s like everyone is mocking you on purpose, roasting you in front of the entire world making people disguise you for what you do. And in return, you’re just doing your job — making people feel unhappy.

That’s right. Our society today is built on principles of individual responsibility and numb rules interacting with us through road signs, unreadable legal texts, social perceptions.

If you forgot to wear sunglasses on a sunny day, it’s your fault. If your phone didn’t wake you up and you missed your morning meeting, it’s your fault. If you show up 1 minute later than your parking expiration time was, you’re cited.

But does it have to be this way?

When people are mad about parking citations, they’re not really mad at the officer. They think they are, but they’re not. They are furious about the stupidity of the system, its lack of flexibility and its mercilessness.

Cold-hearted systems make human executors “do their job”. But what do tech companies do to change this inconvenient status quo?

Well, one group of tech companies supply drivers with easier ways to find parking spots as well as paying for parking.

Parkmobile, PaybyPhone, Parker.

Another group of tech companies equip citation officers with software that generates hatred among regular people. And industry leaders are:

Funny fact, “Pay-by-Phone” app is marketed as a standalone entity, but in reality it’s advertised as a child product of the same company that gave the world the impersonal abbreviation “VATS”, Municipal Citation Solutions.

Brazos is “weapon” in Galician. It’s built and sold by Tyler Technologies, leader in government sector software solutions. It would be fair to say that Brazos is more like a citation platform that also includes the ability to create parking citation forms, while VATS is a pure parking solution.

VATS, as a standalone parking management system, is a more advanced technology between the two. It does all sorts of things the “guardians of parking time” need to punish you for being irresponsible: reports, all kinds of citation options, automatic fee calculations, printing and mailing notices, remote hosting, you name it.

Brazos eParking module is custom tailored to its client. It also does cool stuff like filling out your info scraped from DMV’s DB, Electronic chalking (for some reason in the tech capital of the world, San Francisco, all car tires still get white marks), mapped reports, ect.

Both apps are good for what they are: charging people ridiculous fines in every legal way possible.

Even though technically both apps provide some kind of value to the citation organizations, I conclude that they are dramatically underpowered. They both lack innovation in their core perception of public safety and comfort.

Let me explain. I have 3 major problems with these 2 apps.

      1. PROCESS.

They require humans to operate.

In the next 10 years humanity will send people to Mars, children will be conceived in artificial wombs and Genetics will likely fix our aging pattern. Only a decade away, we are still using humans for things like parking enforcement. This issue leads to Problem #2.

      2. Not DRIVER-centered.

There’s no citation without a driver. Driver is the object of citation. Don’t you think it’s completely wrong and very obsolete. In the era of all businesses and organizations trying to get to know their customers better, make personal connection and win their loyalty, Brazos and VATS embody the old-school sword of Damocles metaphor.

Even one small change to the citation process would make parking enforcement more cost and process efficient and make drivers relaxed.

All you need to do is to share parking officer’s route and current GPS location with the public. User app will automatically calculate when the officer gets to your vehicle and alert you when he’s close, so you could walk up to your car and avoid costly consequences and frenzy red eyes. Would you agree that this move alone would ease tension dramatically.

What about less human labour or human-less enforcement and payments?

It’s definitely trickier, but not impossible.

Parking enforcement could definitely save a lot of money if they’d be sending their officers to meters that send “unpaid parking” signals to the main board vs making those poor souls patrol scavenge entire neighborhoods skipping “almost expired” meters anyway.

Parking lots could have affordable weight, heat or movement sensors to automatically detect occupied parking spots and read VIN numbers using one unified video solution.

Drivers should be trusted — it’s the only way to make people be more responsible and appreciative. Those using apps to pay for their parking spots should not have to do anything. GPS and accelerometer should figure out which spot is taken and automatically charge user’s card. If the driver is late, app will automatically re-charge card for pre-set amount to avoid citation.

Of course there’s a ton of innovative features to be added to both apps and parking enforcement system in general, but I guess what I’m trying to say is that government and tech companies that provide solutions for gov sector should aim to prevent citation by all means.

They should put the driver first and see how they can help driver not get cited and cite driver only when there’s no other logical option.

I understand that parking enforcement is a $30b industry and in cities like San Francisco this business is vital for local budget. But progress is always made when consumers are put first. Otherwise you’re not adding value, you’re adding fuel to the fire.

     3. OS.

Both apps are Windows OS only. Probably because both companies have MS related past and massive legacy infrastructure they’re stuck with. But not being able to provide light weight world class iOS and Android platforms to your users is a big problem in my eyes. It definitely limits your reach and opens a tempting opportunity window for your competitors. Even the ones you’ve never heard of.

Plano, TX. July 2016.

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