park_tix

Nothing ruins a day quite like getting a parking ticket. That’s why many people stow their tickets in their glove compartments and forget about them. Then, of course, come the late fees. And even if you do remember to pay the fine, the process is quite annoying: You have to find an envelope and pay the fee via snail mail, or operate a terribly-designed city website. It’s a joyless experience.

Cort Johnson, who hails from the Boston-based Terrible Labs which makes a smattering of tech-related products and apps, has created a way to somewhat alleviate this problem. He has spearheaded the app TicketZen, which is quite simply a mobile parking ticket payment platform. When users receive a parking ticket they can open the app on their phone (which is available on both iOS and Android), scan the barcode on the ticket or enter in the ticket’s number, and then pay then and there.

The program, which was incubated at Terrible Labs, had a soft launch in Boston last year, and was met with positive feedback. “We’re excited with the transaction volume we reached thus far,” Johnson said. While he wouldn’t divulge the exact numbers behind the Boston trial, its traction has caused him to expand the business.

Starting today TicketZen will available in Cambridge, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington DC, San Francisco, and State College, PA.

Johnson sees his app as a sort of win-win for citizens and cities. “The experience of paying parking tickets is not good,” he said. “Why not make that experience easier?” That, right there, was the original impetus behind TicketZen. Those who have used the app seem to agree with the ease. Johnson said that the average user paid three tickets through his system.

And it seems only logical that cities would want to participate as well. Parking tickets are an easy and lucrative way to bring in revenue. Take San Francisco, for example. Last year, the city issued over $88 million in parking fines. These fees frequently go unpaid. One tally says that over $132 million of unpaid parking fees have accrued over the last five years. So it would behoove cities to latch onto new ways that make paying these odious fines more seamless, thus bringing in more cash for the city.

Johnson concurs that cities are bullish on this sort of capability. “Getting the cities on board is relatively smooth,” he said.

And, according to Johnson, it’s not too hard to integrate city parking ticket online payment structures. “You don’t need a specific relationship with the city,” he told me. “We just build an integration to their platform.” So as long as cities give the go-ahead for the app to use the city’s payment platform, the process isn’t too technically arduous.

There’s even a feature for when tickets aren’t entered into cities’ systems in real-time. If a person receives a ticket and the city hasn’t processed it yet, the person can scan the ticket on TicketZen and then receive a notification once the city has received word too.

TicketZen charges a dollar per transaction, which is either paid by the city or the end user (each agreement differs slightly). Using Boston’s statistics as a starting point, we can see how big this market actually is. Johnson says the average parking ticket fee during the Boston trial was around $65. The city collected $62.2 million in fines in 2010, which comes out to about 956,923 violations. By those numbers, if everyone in Boston uses TicketZen, the company stands to rake in nearly a million dollars — and that’s just for one, relatively smaller city.

The big “if,” of course, is whether people will adopt the app. While this will surely make the process easier, parking tickets just aren’t fun to think about. This will require users to not only think about them, but download an entire app dedicated to the annoying pieces of paper. The flip side, however, is forgetting altogether and then having a ticket go to collections.

If we’re doing a cost-benefit analysis in that vein, TicketZen probably is a better bet.

[Image courtesy Wikimedia]