Parking Tickets To Go High-tech

November 08, 2023
Officers will use hand-held devices and portable printers to issue parking citations next year. COURTESY IPS SOLUTIONS Officers will use hand-held devices and portable printers to issue parking citations next year. COURTESY IPS SOLUTIONS

CHATHAM – If all goes according to plan, you won’t ever get an old-fashioned parking ticket in Chatham again. But park illegally and you might soon receive a computer-generated notification of a parking violation, with an online payment option.

Parking fees will be increased from $50 to $75, the first increase since 2004, to pay for the technology.

Police Chief Mike Anderson said the department’s stock of paper ticket books is running low, and rather than reorder, Information Technology Director Craig Rowe suggested using it as an opportunity to modernize. The new system will reduce the time and effort it takes both to issue and to pay tickets, and will hopefully increase the number of parking fines that are actually paid by violators, the chief said.

In planning the change, town officials analyzed data on parking violations going back to 2018. That year, 1,282 tickets were issued, yielding $64,050 in fines; numbers were up slightly in 2019. During that time, the department had an officer assigned to a parking patrol, Anderson said. Downtown traffic was down sharply in 2020 because of the pandemic, so the data was not reviewed, but in 2021, only 800 tickets were issued. That year and in 2022, when there were no staff dedicated to parking enforcement, the total value of parking fines was $40,000 in 2021 and just under $30,000 in 2022.

This summer, with four new community service officers patrolling the downtown area, 1,354 tickets were issued, yielding fines of $67,700. Next year, Anderson said he hopes to add another community service officer and expand traffic enforcement to Lighthouse Beach and the fish pier.

The study of parking violations also yielded some interesting details: about 80 percent of tickets are issued to non-residents, and the most commonly issued ticket was for motorists parking outside the lines. While some feel parking an inch or two outside the lines is a minor violation, the practice makes it difficult for large vehicles to pass, particularly ambulances and fire trucks. Vehicles parked outside the lines also result in the largest number of citizen complaints, Anderson said.

“With the evolution of these vehicles, the days of just a mirror strike, minor accident, paper exchanges are gone,” he said. The cost of repairing such damage makes the collision a major accident. “There’s another 20 minutes for a crash investigation,” the chief said.

Rowe identified several potential vendors for parking enforcement systems. The system offered by San Diego-based IPS Group uses handheld smartphones paired with tiny, portable wireless printers carried by officers. When spotting a violation, the officer uses the app to scan the vehicle’s state inspection sticker, and the vehicle and ownership data from the Registry of Motor Vehicles is used to begin filling out the violation. Officers can then take one or more photos showing the violation, and the app time- and location-stamps the images. The violation notice is then printed out on a slip that resembles a store receipt, but on special waterproof paper.

“On the back of it will be a QR code,” Rowe said. “It’s going to take them right to a webpage and they’re going to be able to pay their fine directly there,” he said.

With parking violations easily documented with a photo that the driver can see right away, there will likely be fewer violators requesting hearings with the town parking clerk.

“It’s hard to argue with a picture,” Rowe said. But those who do want to contest the violation can request a hearing directly from the webpage.

The IPS system would cost the town a one-time expense of $28,415, with annual costs of just over $20,000. A $5 online transaction fee would be included in the fine. By raising parking violation fees, the town would cover the cost of the new system, officials said.

Standard parking violations in Chatham were $15 before 1996, when they increased to $25. In 2004, the fees were increased to $50. Boosting them to $75 would pay for the new system, Rowe said. Parking fees vary by town on Cape Cod, and some towns assess different fees for different types of violations.

“Every town that we’ve spoken to is looking at a fee increase,” he said.

Resident John Hallgren wondered whether a $75 fine is too high for someone who parks just over the line on Main Street. “They might go, ‘Chatham? We’re not coming back,’” he said.

Select board member Dean Nicastro disagreed. “We do a lot in this town for our visitors,” he said, including free parking on the street and in most town lots and low-priced parking at the Eldredge Garage lot. “If they’re violating the parking rules, I don’t have any sympathy for them,” Nicastro said.

Chatham currently fines $50 for drivers who wrongly use handicap parking spaces, and Anderson and Rowe proposed raising the fine to $150. Select board members favored increasing this kind of parking fine to $300, the maximum allowed by state law. Board chair Cory Metters said handicap spaces are well marked, so there is little excuse for other drivers to use them.

“If people don’t park in violation of it, they’re never going to get a violation. They’ll never have to pay the ticket,” he said.

The board unanimously approved the fee increases and authorized the use of an electronic ticketing system as soon as Jan. 1.

“I think we’re modernizing what’s really a pretty antiquated system,” board member Jeffrey Dykens said.