Imagine how you'd feel if your windshield was clear but your mailbox was full of parking tickets you didn't even know you had racked up.
License Plate Recognition — the same technology that gave us cashless tolling — is changing parking enforcement by putting an end to paper permits and window stickers and providing mounds of real-time data.
And that could soon give us ticketless parking tickets, opening a huge potential revenue stream for municipalities. At least one New Jersey parking official said he's waiting for the right moment to give it a trial run.
Parking violations are a cash cow
Talk to enough parking-enforcement officials and you'll hear what Ryan Sharp, the parking boss in Hoboken, New Jersey, said recently: They're not out to make money.
"Our number one goal is compliance," Sharp said. "We'd like to not give out a single ticket if we could all year long ... But the reality is that that will probably never be the case."
Josh Ringel, assistant to the village manager in Scarsdale, New York, demonstrated the village's new high-tech License Plate Recognition system last week. The system made an immediate impact when it debuted this month.
"Within the first two weeks we found a handful of people who were either using somebody else's permit or they copied the permit," Ringel said. "But that went away after two weeks. The goal, at the end of the day, is compliance."
Scarsdale police have outfitted a patrol car with four small cameras: two on its trunk hood, two on its rear fenders. They capture parking data throughout the town — including whether cars have been parked too long on streets.
Ticket revenue might actually fall as compliance increases, Ringel said.
Still, the cold reality is that parking violations are a municipal cash cow: Scarsdale made $600,000 in parking fines last year, about $33 per capita; Hoboken raked in close to $6 million, or a whopping $108 per Hoboken resident.
Nobody pulls in more from parking tickets than New York City, at $545 million in 2016, $63.20 per capita.
Another reality: If tech-savvy municipalities like Hoboken wanted, they could generate untold thousands, possibly millions, of dollars using technology already on hand.
Savings thousands on paper tickets
Hoboken has had LPR cameras on two cars since 2014, able to cover 32 linear miles of city streets in four hours, with the on-board computer flashing each time it identifies a parking violation such as an expired meter, overtime parker or missing permit.
The technology cuts thousands of dollars once spent on paper permits and paperwork, and makes it easier on the parking public, Sharp said. In addition, the technology has:
- Eliminated needs for parking stickers, as virtual permits are linked to license plates;
- Eliminated kiosk payment and the need for printed receipts on dashboards;
- Allowed drivers to pay and renew permits in real-time via an app.
Ringel, in Scarsdale, said the village turned to LPR largely because it offered virtual permitting. That has allowed the Westchester village to save $13,000 a year on paper tags and postage and plastic pouches for each permit.
It's one thing to know where the violations are; it's another to get a ticket under the windshield wiper.
“You have to actually physically track down the car and stick a piece of paper on the windshield," Sharp said. "You miss cars who leave before you get there and you have limited manpower.”
On July 1, Sharp will ask Hoboken City Council for $500,000 to upgrade the city's LPR system, to buy two new computers with software and two electric or plug-in-hybrid vehicles.
He will employ an “infantry” of 10 ticket writers per shift on foot, bike or electric scooter covering enforcement zones of a few square blocks each.
The LPR vehicle will cruise the city without having to stop to write tickets and will transmit violations and their locations — geocoded and clustered on a map — to ticket-writers’ electronic tablets.
Ticketless parking tickets: The future?
Sharp said there could come a time, in the not-too-distant future, when violations could be issued without having to put anything on the offending car’s windshield. The notice could be forwarded to a billing company and a violation notice mailed.
"Our understanding from our law department is that legally we could do it if we follow very specific procedures for how we issue the ticket in terms of how it's given out, certified mail, things like that," Sharp said.
"But we're holding off for the right moment to try it out on a limited, pilot basis to see how effective it is and how well received it is by the community."
But ticketless parking tickets wouldn't fly in Scarsdale, said police Sgt. David Rosa.
"Change is hard for our residents and our Village Hall is very resident-based," said Rosa. "And this is Scarsdale. We're not running and chasing bad guys every two seconds."
Ringel, who has been overseeing the LPR implementation, agreed.
"For somebody to come down here and think they didn't get a ticket and then a week later get a ticket in the mail I think would be more of a negative experience," Ringel said.
A booming market for parking tech
Global data and information services business IHS Markit has tracked the rise of LPR, also called Automatic Number Plate Recognition.
The firm’s lead security researcher, Oliver Philippou, said the global market — including for red-light cameras, security and traffic control — was estimated to be about $900 million last year.
Out of that, the global parking and time management market was estimated to be about $70 million," he said. "North America accounted for the largest geographic region, estimated to be about $30 million in 2018.”
The parking piece of the sector is booming, Philippou said.
“Parking time management market revenues are forecast to be the fastest growing of all ANPR applications from 2017 to 2022,” he said.
A New York suburb finds success
Nearly 6 years ago, the New York City suburb of Croton-on-Hudson turned to LPR to monitor 2,000 spots in the massive Croton-Harmon Metro-North parking lot.
It cost about $50,000 to outfit one vehicle with the system's special wiring, a computer, a mount and software. The impact was immediate, said Kristine Gilligan, the village’s deputy village clerk and parking manager.
Before, parking officers would use a handheld device to scan quarterly window stickers and each plate to see if they corresponded. With 1,700 permits issued for the 2,000 spots at the Croton-Harmon station, the workflow was “cumbersome and tiresome,” Gilligan said.
Five years later, the change is complete.
"The camera’s on the car and each officer, each shift can get through the lot several times,” she said. “It’s more convenient for the customer because everything’s online.
While the tech is bad news for those trying to skirt parking rules, it’s good news for the village’s bottom line: Gilligan said last year’s parking-violation revenue village-wide totaled $243,085, about $29 per capita.
But what Gilligan appreciates most is the efficiency.
“It’s phenomenal," she said. "I just can't express it enough how much it's changed."
This article originally appeared on Rockland/Westchester Journal News: Skip the windshield: Ticketless parking tickets could be headed your way