City partners with state to accept online payments
While residents in many cities still visit city hall or mail in ticket payments for civil violations, people in Houston now can pay over the Internet. The online payment system allows area residents to pay fines for almost any civil wrongdoing that results in a ticket, says Dennis Piper, chief information officer for the city. “Our goal is to enable people to go online [rather than] stand in line,” he says.
The city could not afford to build an online payment system from scratch. Consequently, Piper elected to partner with TexasOnline (www.texasonline.com), the state information Web site, to develop a ticket payment system that other Texas municipalities ultimately could use as well. (TexasOnline is a public/private partnership between Texas and the Austin office of McLean, Va.-based KPMG Consulting.) “Our IT organization and KPMG did the development work, which took about nine months,” Piper says.
Computer users access the payment system from Houston’s Web site (www.cityofhouston.gov) by clicking “Online Ticket Pay.” That takes residents to a secure Web site hosted by TexasOnline where they enter their ticket numbers and pay fines using credit cards. The payment system is managed by the consulting firm and accepts American Express, Discover, Visa or MasterCard.
Modest convenience fees are added to the cost of the tickets to pay for the automated payment system. That means Houston faces no ongoing expense to provide the service. The city receives 5 percent of the gross revenue from convenience fees collected. In addition, it receives 35 percent of the net revenue from convenience fees after TexasOnline recoups its costs for developing and hosting the application.
In December 2001, the first month of operation, Houston took in $16,000 from online payments. In January 2002, ticket payments via the Internet accounted for $34,000. While the latter represents only 1 percent of the total ticket revenue for January, Piper believes the number of tickets paid online will increase steadily as people learn about the service. “It’s simply easier and takes less time for people to pay tickets this way,” he says.
Even so, Piper does not believe online ticket payments will replace traditional methods anytime soon. People still can pay for their tickets in person or by mail. “We’re not replacing existing payment systems,” he cautions. “We’re simply offering another method that’s more convenient for people who have Internet access at home or in schools and libraries.”
Online ticket payments are just the tip of the iceberg in Houston’s effort to bring government and community services to its residents through the Internet. “Once you have a highly functional portal like we do now, it’s relatively easy to add other payment and presentment serv-ices,” Piper says. “[Do] you want to rent a softball field or reserve a civic center? At some point, you’ll be able to do that through a single online portal.”