Iowa City Online Ticket Payment System is Misleading and Confusing

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Introduction

The Iowa City Parking Ticket Citation Online Payment System has a database lookup feature that can search all parking tickets based on citation number or license plate number.

For most people, when you search on your license plate, the current citation(s) will show up and you can pay them online.

However, someone who is leasing a vehicle will receive the following notification without any further explanation:

The following violation(s) were found for the information you entered as well as any other license plates on your record. Select the citations you would like to pay and click “Next >>”

The report may show many entries for every vehicle with a citation from that same leasing company. An example is found at the bottom of this page.

Poor Online User Experience

Here’s the typical consumer experience when encountering the above message:

  1. The person attempting to pay their parking ticket will at first be confused and surprised by the large number of outstanding parking tickets the system seems to be saying are due.
  2. Upon closer examination, the person will see that the many tickets are for numerous vehicles.
  3. Assuming the system has been hacked, or isn’t working properly, they will probably contact the city for more information (increasing support calls and emails to city workers).
  4. If they email the city, clearly explaining the above problem, they will receive an email reply stating: “I have deleted that email address from our system, so you should be able to create a new account and pay any outstanding tickets online. If you have any other questions or concerns, please call our office at 319-356-5151 option 2.”
  5. Assuming the problem is now fixed, the person will again, enter their plate number, but the same results will come up as before.
  6. The person will need to call the city again for clarification, by calling the number provided in step #4 and then pressing 2.
  7. They will then be told that they must manually search through all the citations (perhaps many pages of them) to find their own (listed by vehicle license plate number).
  8. Then they must manually UNCHECK all the citations that aren’t theirs – because there isn’t an uncheck all option.
  9. Then the can proceeded to pay only their citation.

The above example shows how inefficient and confusing the existing system is.

Misleading

Under the current system, some people, who aren’t paying close attention, may end up paying old citations for other people. For example, when  you query the database and request that it show you what tickets you owe, and it produces a list, you may just go ahead and pay those tickets if just a few are listed. You’ll probably assume you got a ticket sometime and forgot to pay or the ticket blew away before you returned to the vehicle. You will be unwittingly paying someone else’s tickets that are listed among your own. Having all citations checked by default increases the chances of this happening. A syndical person may conclude that the system was intentionally designed to mislead consumers into mistakenly paying old unpaid citations that are on the books for other drivers.

Privacy Issues

In addition to the inconveniences, inefficiencies, and confusion listed above, there is a privacy issue because people unwittingly are having their vehicle parking citation information exposed to anyone in the public who happens to type in that person’s license plate number or a plate from any vehicle from the same leasing company. With the current system, all you need is a person’s license plate number to discover every ticket they have been issued and not paid.

Outdated Citations

The system is retaining and displaying information as far back as 6 years old. At some point, an unpaid parking ticket, perhaps for a student who has long-since moved to another state, should be removed from the books and written off as a loss. In the case of rental car companies, municipalities will assess a fee to the entity that owns the vehicle, and it’s up to that company to track down and fine the responsible party. However, a municipality trying to track down the owner of a leased or rented vehicle from many years ago is just inefficient.

Best Practices

Here are some suggestions for a better online parking ticket / citation payment system:

  1. Display only the tickets for the license plate searched on and not others from the same leasing company.
  2. Provide an option for leasing company representatives where they can view all citations on their vehicles.
  3. If a system displays multiple citations, they should not all be checked by default, and there should be an option to select all or unselect all.
  4. If a listing is showing other vehicles that are part of a leasing company, then it should be clearly stated, “”Vehicles listed may not be your own. They may be part of a fleet or owned by a leasing company, with unpaid citations going back almost 7 years.”
  5. Some privacy and multi-factor authentication measures should be put in place so that only the vehicle owner can view their own parking tickets.

Database Search Results Sample

Below is an actual page from the search results. The citation numbers and plate numbers have been slightly modified from the originals to maintain anonymity of the owners. Search results like this one are easily obtained by entering any vehicle associated with a leasing company.

Citation Number Issue Date Plate Number Violation Balance Can Pay Online?
622221 07/25/2008 403PYJ-IA EXPIRED METER $10.00 Yes
367153 06/28/2008 796SQL-IA EXPIRED METER $10.00 Yes
361849 05/10/2008 560TAF-IA EXPIRED METER $10.00 Yes
755677 03/20/2008 621RNL-IA EXPIRED METER $5.00 Yes
356332 03/10/2008 189PLE-IA EXPIRED METER $10.00 Yes
620726 06/26/2008 405PYJ-IA EXPIRED METER $10.00 Yes
620717 06/24/2008 401PYJ-IA EXPIRED METER $10.00 Yes
300811 11/17/2007 198PLE-IA PROHIBITED ZONE $15.00 Yes
09B000729 10/23/2008 221PIZ-IA EXPIRED METER $10.00 Yes
09G000144 10/30/2008 563TSZ-IA LIB USE ONLY $10.00 Yes
09D006474 12/16/2008 842TTD-IA NO PARKING 8AM-5PM $15.00 Yes
326353 01/06/2009 862TTD-IA PRIVATE PROPERTY $15.00 Yes
11W016502 06/15/2011 645XQC-IA EXPIRED METER 2010 $5.00 Yes
12F005376 04/13/2012 KJBLL1-IA EXPIRED METER 2010 $10.00 Yes
12W017659 06/30/2012 KJBLL1-IA EXPIRED METER 2010 $15.00 Yes
10P047264 08/26/2013 848ZKG-IA ALLEY PARKING. $20.00 Yes
14F002836 09/26/2013 188SFT-IA EXPIRED METER. $12.00 Yes
14W005259 11/20/2013 748LYJ-IA EXPIRED METER. $10.00 Yes
14M006381 11/21/2013 ASL369-IA EXPIRED METER. $12.00 Yes
14M007246 12/12/2013 848ZIG-IA EXPIRED METER. $12.00 Yes
14H003624 12/30/2013 RIBSA1-IA EXPIRED METER. $12.00 Yes
14H003937 01/11/2014 133TMR-IA EXPIRED METER. $7.00 Yes
14M008692 01/15/2014 837VHP-IA EXPIRED METER. $7.00 Yes
14H004519 01/20/2014 V4588-IA EXPIRED METER. $7.00 Yes
14W005197 01/22/2014 747PYJ-IA EXPIRED METER. $25.00 Yes
14W007234 01/22/2014 AZF555-IA EXPIRED METER. $15.00 Yes
14W007647 01/22/2014 747PYJ-IA EXPIRED METER. $25.00 Yes
14M009300 01/25/2014 BKK120-IA ODD/EVEN. $15.00 Yes
14M009528 01/31/2014 AQE657-IA ODD/EVEN. $15.00 Yes
14M009547 02/01/2014 AQE857-IA ODD/EVEN. $15.00 Yes

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