Notes from Seattle’s Transition to Pay by Plate
Are you considering transitioning to pay by plate? How hard would it be? How would your customers take to it? What benefits does it provide? Seattle decided back in 2012 that we wanted to transition to pay by plate when we replaced our aging pay stations. That journey is now complete. We’d like to share the lessons we learned along the way, hoping they can be helpful for other municipalities.
Monitoring the system and focusing on customer service are critical.
Our first lesson: include parking enforcement from the very start. In Seattle, on-street parking operations are under the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT), but enforcement is under the Seattle Police Department (SPD). We knew this transition would completely change the way parking enforcement officers do their jobs, and I’m glad we recognized that from the get-go. The close cooperation, trust and collaboration between SDOT and SPD has been essential to our success.
Our second lesson: data latency exists. Data latency is the time it takes for paid parking transaction information to travel from the pay station to the parking enforcement officer’s hand-held device. Being able to accurately identify latency, developing mitigations for it, and monitoring it are critical in a pay-by-plate world that depends on real-time, accurate, transaction data.
Like many cities, we have hills, high rise buildings and dead spots that can interfere with cellular communications. We did not want to issue citations to people who had actually paid, but whose transaction data was simply “stuck” in the pay station. While we would obviously like that number to be zero, given that we process 40,000 paid parking transactions per day, we are pretty happy with the result. Monitoring the system and focusing on customer service are critical.
Our third lesson: take the time to diligently engage in testing. As the municipality, we had the most skin in the game. So rather than sit back, we felt we needed to assume significant testing responsibility. This included developing testing protocols, conducting “desk” testing of the systems, and creating a load test simulating a normal day’s 40,000 transactions to test the systems and the server capacity. Our result has been a system that works effectively for everyone.
Our fourth lesson: recognize that there are a lot of different players. Because a municipality may have different vendors for pay stations, mobile payment, enforcement ticketing, and license plate recognition that cross over multiple city departments, successful integration takes coordination, ownership and having the right people in the room.
Our fifth lesson: decision-maker buy-in is helpful. We have been lucky to have the support of forward-leaning leadership at the department levels and elected officials, without whom none of this would have been possible. Much of that was engendered by our consistently conveying to them the benefits of the change for ourselves and customers, and keeping them informed of our progress along the way.
Learn how we made this work at PIE 2020 this month in San Diego. I’ll be joined by our vendor IPS Group and we will fill you in on the successes and failures in our transition. See you Tuesday, March 24 at 3 PM.
Margo Pulley is a Strategic Advisor in Curbside Management at Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT). She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org