The Public Transport Authority (PTA) manages around 21,000 parking bays at 51 train stations in Western Australia using the SmartParker system. The system has been in use since July 2014 after it was purchased from and customised by a third party vendor. The vendor continues to provide ongoing support for the system.
The system allows the public to use their public transport card (SmartRider) to ‘tag on’ to pay the $2 fee for parking in PTA carparks. The fee is deducted from their SmartRider balance. The fee, which is charged on weekdays only, provides validated parking for 24 hours. It applies to all vehicles including motorbikes and motorised scooters. PTA parking revenue in 2014-15 was $7.97 million. Over 80% of parking revenue is collected by SmartParker.
To use SmartParker, the public must link their vehicle licence plate to their SmartRider either by using the ‘My Account’ page on the Transperth website or by contacting the Transperth call centre. A maximum of 3 vehicles can be registered to a single SmartRider, but only 1 vehicle can be marked as ‘active’ at any time. This is the vehicle that will be parked at a train station that day. When using another vehicle, the public need to ensure that they have changed their active vehicle before tagging on.
Overall, SmartParker is an effective system for managing parking in PTA carparks. However, control weaknesses in data validation and supporting processes could result in the issuance of parking fines that the public will consider unwarranted or unfair. Although fines can be appealed, incorrectly issued fines can damage public confidence and are time consuming for the public and PTA.
The obligations of the PTA and its service provider, in the event of an incident that may disrupt the system, are unclear as the parties have not formally documented or set these out in a contract.
The PTA has not created disaster recovery plans for SmartParker. These plans are required to minimise disruption to the system in the event of a serious incident or disaster. Important day-to-day SmartParker processes have also not been documented. This includes procedure manuals for electronic checks of meter performance, gathering and reporting of systems statistics and user management tasks.
PTA has previously identified many of the issues in this report and is working towards improved reporting, number plate validation and more efficient processing of infringements.
System process and data validation weaknesses undermine confidence
The SmartParker system is associated with the issuing of a large number of parking infringements, many of which the PTA later cancels.
Effective use of the SmartParker system is dependent on users:
- ensuring they link their vehicle (or vehicles) licence plate numbers to their smart card
- ensuring the licence plate number they link is correct
- ensuring before they tag on the vehicle they will park that day is selected. The system works on a default basis. It will assume that the parked vehicle is the same used on the previous occasion, unless told one of the other authorised vehicles is parked.
A failure in one of the above steps followed by the checking of the vehicle by a parking inspector will result in the issuing of a parking infringement. While prevention of these errors rests first and foremost with the public, the PTA has a responsibility to contribute to prevention through good communication and system processes.
Parking inspectors use a smart phone with a custom number plate recognition application. This software uses the device’s camera to ‘read’ number plates. If a plate is not associated with a SmartRider that has tagged on in that car park, on that day, it will generate an alert and the issuing of an infringement notice.
We sampled one day of parking data and found that of the 15,726 persons who tagged on to park, 143 did not have a vehicle registered to their SmartRider account. In our view, this is a serious system weakness.
The PTA recognises that the types of errors described above are major contributors to the high number of infringements issued each day. Typically, the PTA issues about 200 parking infringements per day. The public can appeal parking infringements and the PTA will cancel the infringements if satisfied that the appellant made an effort to use the system correctly. The PTA advised that it cancels about 40% of the parking infringements it issues. The PTA’s infringement systems cannot easily report on how many appeals related to SmartParker.
However, the appeals process is time consuming for the appellant, costly for the PTA and is damaging to the public’s satisfaction with public transport.
The PTA has advised that it will investigate the feasibility of linking SmartParker with Department of Transport systems to ensure that correct licence plate numbers are entered. We welcome this move but note that it will not solve the issue of people not registering vehicles to SmartParker.
Manual processes increase the risk of errors in infringement notices
The PTA’s processing of about 200 parking infringements per day requires a large amount of manual data entry and processing. Staff record details of an infringement in 3 different locations:
- the parking inspector’s mobile device, which identifies infringing vehicles by reading the numberplate and comparing it to SmartParker records
- a hand written paper ticket which is left on the vehicle, with 2 carbon copies retained by PTA
- infringement details from the carbon copy tickets are then entered manually into the enforcement system the following day.
Parking inspectors at train stations will compile ticket copies and transport them to the central enforcement office for processing. Copies of tickets could be lost or damaged during this manual handling. An enforcement officer processing paper tickets may incorrectly issue or withdraw a fine if a paper ticket is misinterpreted.
These manual processes are inefficient and potentially unreliable. The PTA could automate these tasks. Electronic alternatives are readily available and will provide efficiency gains and added confidence in the ticketing process.
Management reporting requires system improvements
We found that PTA does not have an efficient process for producing management level reports of SmartParker enforcement and carpark usage. Although the system generates some generic reports, these are not meeting management’s needs. Staff use spreadsheets to create daily statistics and trends on parking bay use. This information is then used to create daily and monthly management reports on parking activity.
The manual compilation of reports is inefficient and increases the risk of input errors, affecting the reliability of reporting and of management making incorrect decisions.
Individual business areas create and tailor reports for their needs. However, these are not made available to other business areas, as PTA does not collate the information into a central repository to allow automated and flexible reporting. Without a centralised view of the parking data, PTA does not have visibility of its overall performance. This may impact its ability to make decisions affecting the long term improvement of SmartParker.
The PTA is currently reviewing its reporting processes and plans to automate reports where possible.
Controls to ensure ongoing operations could be strengthened
The PTA has identified SmartParker as critical to day-to-day operations. An outage of the SmartParker system could result in a loss of revenue, as well as delay the processing of infringements. We found weaknesses in the following areas that may delay full restoration of operations following an incident:
- the PTA and its service provider do not have a formal agreement that defines the obligations of each party and the services to be provided. In the event of an incident, PTA may be unable to rely on the service provider to support SmartParker in timely manner
- there is no disaster recovery plan for SmartParker. Disaster recovery plans assist by describing how to recover IT systems in the event of an incident that causes an outage or disruption to services
- the PTA has not documented some important daily SmartParker tasks. For instance, formal procedures for checking the state of the parking meters, entry of infringement data and managing users within SmartParker. The PTA relies on the knowledge of their current staff to ensure these tasks are completed consistently and correctly. Formalising the procedures could enable the PTA to continue operation even when staff with the knowledge of the operations are unavailable.
1. By August 2016 the Public Transport Authority should:
a. establish a formal contract and service level agreement with SmartParker’s service provider
b. develop and test disaster recovery plans for the system and supporting infrastructure
c. document important SmartParker tasks, detailing the requirements and step by step procedures. These documents should be stored to allow access by suitable staff and be reviewed and updated periodically.
2. By December 2016 the Public Transport Authority should:
a. collaborate with other agencies and organisations to ensure that licence plates recorded in SmartParker can be validated
b. identify opportunities to reduce duplicate data entry and streamline the parking Infringement process
c. enhance reporting capabilities to automate common reports and provide easy access to create ad-hoc reports across parking and infringement operations.
Response from the Public Transport Authority
The findings and recommendations of the OAG SmartParker report are acknowledged by the PTA. It should be noted that the contract with the service provider is now ready for finalisation and the other report findings will be considered/addressed as the PTA seeks to implement the next generation of parking technology which will involve back office validation, issuing and processing of parking infringements