Jeffrey S. Grunfeld says the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission improved the accuracy of the tickets their inspectors issue by replacing a paper-based process with a mobile app.

Jan 23 2014

New York City’s Mobile Ticketing Solution Gets Taxis Back on the Street

Handheld computers and summonsing app boost accuracy of citations.

Completing a multipart, paper-based summons used to be a painstaking and time-consuming task for Fazil Gaffoor, an inspector for the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) responsible for policing the legal and safe operation of the city's 50,000 licensed, for-hire vehicles.

So much was riding on each inspector's penmanship and accuracy in copying license and identification numbers and in transcribing information obtained via radio. The inspector also must be able to write a cohesive narrative describing how the driver in question had violated the law. Drivers can be cited for violations such as illegal use of a bus lane, a broken taillight, talking on a cellphone while driving or refusing to take a paying customer to the requested destination.

"If you made a mistake when writing out the summons, like the vehicle identification number, or you added something at the end of the narrative that should have been at the beginning, it would be questioned in court, and the summons could be — and often was — thrown out," Gaffoor says.

The possibility of effort wasted and revenue lost over a technicality increased pressure on inspectors during what sometimes is a tense situation with taxi or limo drivers who may lose income during the stop, says Jeffrey S. Grunfeld, CIO for the Taxi and Limousine Commission. "The longer that ticketing lasts, the more at-risk our people could be," he explains.

Grunfeld and his IT team sought a solution to automate and speed the ticketing process. With the help of consultants from Mobizent and NTT Data, the agency in 2012 deployed the Electronic Summonsing and Administration Program (ESAP). The commission's 200 inspectors use Intermec CN70e handheld computers and Mobizent's TicketWorks mobile ticketing application that stores prepopulated drop-down lists of violations.

Secure Network Access Means Streamlined Stops

The summonsing system also relies on Utility Rocket mobile gateways that create a secure connection between the patrol vehicle and the New York City wireless network. The NYCWiN connectivity enables the handhelds to interface with the Taxi Affairs Management Information System (TAMIS), a mainframe-based customer resource management application that contains files on all TLC licensees.

Now, instead of having to jot down a vehicle identification or driver's license number, inspectors can use their handhelds to scan a license or registration barcode and automatically populate the summons with key identity information. Inspectors can also query TAMIS to determine if a driver's TLC license is valid and receive an immediate answer on screen, rather than having to radio the TLC office and ask a staff member to look up the information.

1,800+ The number of rules and regulations governing for-hire drivers and vehicles licensed by the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission

Inspectors type the violation narrative into a designated field and can edit, delete, add and move text as needed. Once complete, the inspector simply prints the summons using a Zebra RW 420 mobile printer located in the patrol car and hands it to the driver.

Working the System

Since the rollout was completed in May, the ESAP has significantly reduced the time it takes for a TLC inspector to issue a summons. When inspectors had to query the radio room, the average ticket took about 20 minutes to complete, Grunfeld says. "By using the data on the handheld, some of our inspectors can complete a summons in approximately seven minutes," he says.

The ticketing system brings other benefits too. Because the official summons is also transmitted directly to TAMIS, "we no longer have multiple versions of the same ticket and multiple versions of the truth because errors were made when the summons was manually keyed in," says Grunfeld. It also speeds the process for performing vehicle seizures because employees don't have to wait for the summons to be input into the system.

Inspectors' hearing calendars are automatically populated with accurate dates, and they no longer need to manually search through paper files for the information needed for each hearing, a tedious process that often took hours. Gaffoor adds, "I can just go in and print out all the summonses, and they literally come out in the order that the judge will be seeing them."

This level of accuracy and efficiency has prompted more defendants to plead guilty rather than challenge the violation in court.

"There has definitely been a trend toward, 'Well, I know I did this, so let me just pay the fine and get it over with,' " Grunfeld says. "There's just something about a typewritten summons. It looks a lot more official and a lot harder to fight."

Matthew Furman